Half rising from the plastic white chair, he jabs a finger toward a girl and her school friends sitting across the circle from him. “She will have a future,” says Patrick Ikware, almost shouting. “This cult is diminishing, but to eliminate it, we need to substitute education, send our daughters to school and block our ears to the elders.”
The handful of others sitting on mismatched chairs on the grass outside the school in Masaba nod. A parents’ meeting held for those opposed to female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice almost universal among women in the Kuria districts of Migori county, western Kenya, is sparsely attended.
But his daughter, grinning shyly at her father’s defiant words, like all their daughters, is still at risk. Relatives here, even neighbours, will entice a girl to the cutting ceremonies if her parents are not vigilant.
“The problem we have is people who cannot look beyond their own roof! The elders, our parents and relatives, even our friends, say you have to cut,” says Ikware.
“They cannot tell me what to do with my daughters and if my daughter graduates from here, I don’t have to expect her to marry around this community. There are other places.”
The campaign to stop the mutilation of the genitalia of hundreds of girls at the end of next month, when schools close for Easter, is in full swing here. School holidays are when the cuttings happen, on girls from six upwards. The longer the holiday, the more girls who will be cut, and from March schools are closed for seven weeks. The Christmas holidays took everyone involved in the anti-FGM movement here by surprise – cutting ceremonies began at scale in town centres all over Kuria, on the Kenyan border with Tanzania, enabled by a lack of law enforcement thanks to the Covid lockdown.
Despite the passion of the volunteers advocating against FGM, the activists talking on every local radio station about the terrible mental and physical toll, the committees, the legislation, and even the Kenyan president decrying the illegal practice, the pull and power of tradition is strong, and it is hard to be shunned by neighbours and family in a small place where life is tough.
The pressure to conform is huge. Uncut girls are bullied, called nasty names. Fathers and brothers are teased or ridiculed. In rare cases where a girl gets married without being cut, mortified in-laws have been known to bribe a nurse to cut her labia off in the aftermath of childbirth.
It is women, less educated and with less ability to leave the confines of the community, who feel the expectations to have their daughters cut most keenly, perpetuating the tradition even as they know the damage wreaked on their own bodies. Girls with nothing see a day when they are given praise, a present, maybe even a few banknotes pinned to their clothes. And they can be part of the processions that mark Kuria’s unique FGM celebrations, when the blood that leaks from newly cut bodies is camouflaged by paint daubed on the victims or scuffed into the dust by dancing feet when it hits the ground.
Kuria, just west of the safari camps of the Maasai Mara national reserve, has so far escaped the droughts of other parts of east Africa and the fawn hides of the cows are shiny and little goats plump-bellied. But there are still harrowing levels of poverty and people who cannot afford school uniforms, shoes, fees and books. Covid entrenched the economic situation, while many boys and girls haven’t returned to education after the pandemic’s school closures.
But girls still fetch a few cows in dowry, making the 1,000 to 2,000 Kenyan shillings (£6.50 to £13) it costs to pay a cutter an investment. And money is at the root of the challenge of stamping out this brutal practice in Kuria.
Zacharia Gati Marwa, cultural coordinator of Kuria’s council of elders, sits on a bench in his low-roofed mud-brick home. He could also be accused of sitting on the fence. He has been engaging with activists who want an end to FGM and says his own daughters are not cut, but he has sympathy for those elders who resist using their authority to end the cutting. The four clans of the region are represented by 160 elders, who direct around 40 cutters, taking the profits they make for themselves.
“The elders are not rich men,” says Marwa. “Many are very poor and without this money, they have even less income. The money collected is important. There’s an income impact here.
“But the last two years we have seen at least sections of the members start to change their mindset. About a third still resist.
“When they are planning how the cutting should take place, they consult the spirits and then gather the cutters, and prepare charms to help,” he says. “There are 40 cutters at any one time, chosen by the spirits. They cannot refuse the task if they are chosen, it is a calling and they are taught how to cut by the spirits. Any woman cannot just wake up and start cutting girls.
“To end FGM, we should buy these men a house so they can be secure, and pay to educate their daughters, then those girls can say ‘look I’m not cut and I’m the child of an elder’. I think this is the only way.
“At the moment, the biggest cultural threat to the elders’ way of life is … the changes to do with FGM.”
Merida Omahe and her husband, Martin, run a tiny hotel, the Black Bull, in Migori, but most of her work now is looking after the neighbourhood’s girls. As we talk, two mothers, Esther Mbusiro and Mary Marko, turn up at their gate. They want to know if their daughters can come and hide out with Merida during the cutting season to keep them safe.
“Yes, I remember what happened to me. There was quite a party,” Merida says, with heavy irony. “When I was a girl, everyone was supporting it. Sometimes I feel traumatised. I was hit, and I bled a lot. I had hidden and managed to escape it for a few years but when I was 21, I was taken by force. Then it was a rite of passage into adulthood and marriage, but I was much older than what is happening now.”
“Now I can stand up for these young girls. One person in two will listen to you. Often they will hide such things from their husbands.”
Her husband of 45 years supports her, even when 185 children ended up hiding out from the cutters at their family compound in December. “Now it’s five,” he smiles. “The ones we have at home, the rescues we have done, these children who run to her, who don’t want to be cut, I feel what she is doing. It touches me. She has a soft heart. At first, she was doing it alone, but now there are like-minded people,” he says.
He believes local people will bring change, not the big NGOs or UN agencies. “The people who come from outside are intruders, and we don’t want them to punch holes in our culture. It’s for our people to decide what is best for them. That’s why activists from here are so important. We have to talk to our young men. These are the boys who will marry these girls, and if they shun FGM, it will stop.
“The women work very hard in our community. They do all our donkey work. I salute them.”
A woman who is married but not cut is called irikunena and the unmarried girls are called mosagane – rude and demeaning terms, says Janet Ghati, 15, an orphan who is one of the five still living with the Omahes. She gets a lot of verbal abuse for not being cut, but says teachers will intervene to stop the bullying if they hear it. “I don’t want to be cut, but sometimes when I am abused at school, I feel torn over my decision. It happens a lot, but I have never been driven to drop out of school. I would like to be a doctor.”
Perched on a plastic chair next to her is her friend Rahena, also 15, a survivor of FGM. She now has a phobia of blood. “They did a bad thing,” she says, “I never wanted it to happen. I felt horrible, helpless. I had no phone to call Mamma. I couldn’t believe it had happened to me. It took one month for the pain to go.”
Meride, along with Vincent Mwita, coordinator of the umbrella anti-FGM activist group Tunaweza, managed to get to Rahena before she was married off.
“It is an unfortunate story,” she says, “we were protecting her when we heard she was at risk of child marriage, but her brother grabbed her at night. She was a very unhappy girl when we found her.”
For such “rescues” they hire a motorbike taxi to pick the girls up. It’s costly, and Mwita hopes Tunaweza can one day buy their own motorbike, but it’s an expensive purchase. Police rarely agree to attend, citing a lack of staff or fuel for their vehicles, he says, but many people in the community will report cuttings and activists’ phone numbers are widely distributed for emergency call outs.
“Rahena’s brother had to go into hiding in Tanzania after he was reported to the authorities for this,” he says.
In December, police arrested 57 parents. Most are waiting for their court cases to be heard. The jail sentences for being involved in FGM are up to 3 years and, as the child has to give evidence, are controversial.
“It’s splitting up families,” says county children’s officer Janet Robi. “Currently, we have 94 children lined up to testify against their parents, but until then we have to find places to look after them.” Without enough children’s homes places, some are waiting in police cells or adult remand centres, she says.
“In the past, FGM cases crumble because the children have to stay with relatives and they are coached on what to say in court. Or they are spirited off to Tanzania. Yesterday, I had four children in my office. Both parents had been arrested so we are doing a petition to the court to release one caregiver. This is our challenge. Even if you arrest a cutter – [and it is] difficult to catch them in the act – you then make room for a less experienced one to take her place. These women are not trained.”
Head of county education Rev Samson Maginga, Robi, and district child protection head Catherine Tingo are discussing their anti-FGM work.
“In Kenya, we have 43 tribes, only five are not practising FGM,” says Maginga. “Kuria is only 300,000 people, but it stands out because we have both the backflow from Tanzania and the music and dancing as people go out on to the roads to celebrate. It is very colourful. Kuria is famous for two things: FGM and cattle rustling. And cattle rustling is becoming less of a problem as it’s taken seriously,” he says.
“I was at a funeral this morning. There was an old man there, 90 years, with the long pierced ear lobes that men used to have, he was asking about the FGM work and he said to me: ‘Look at my ears, our people don’t follow this tradition any more, so why do they hang on to cutting up our girls?’
“But we glorify it, the pain or enduring the pain is glorified for these kids, some of whom will never have before been congratulated for anything in their lives. This is a two-faced devil,” he says. “Some say they will do one thing and do another. An example? One of the senior officials who went out to make arrests in December? Her 10-year-old daughter was cut at the same time.”
This is a national election year for Kenya, a sometimes volatile time when division is whipped up into violence by the unscrupulous. Tingo says politicians are so keen for votes that they will not speak out against FGM. “This is something that’s already outlawed. The only people we have to conquer in this campaign are the political classes. The day we have a politician stand on a podium and talk about FGM, and say ‘this has had its day’, we are done and dusted.”
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Africa’s Eswatini, one of the last absolute monarchies, holds an election without political parties | International
The small southern African nation of Eswatini held elections Friday to decide part of the makeup of its Parliament, even as its extremely wealthy king retains absolute power, political parties are banned and elected representatives can merely advise a monarch whose family has reigned supreme for 55 years.
Eswatini, wedged between South Africa and Mozambique, is the last absolute monarchy in Africa and one of the few remaining in the world. King Mswati III, 55, has been the monarch since 1986, when he became ruler days after his 18th birthday. His father was king for 82 years before him, although Eswatini only gained independence from Britain in 1968.
It was formerly known as Swaziland.
Parliamentary elections are held every five years. Candidates for the lower chamber, the House of Assembly, and for the Senate cannot belong to political parties, which were banned in 1973, and are nominated at a local level before they face a popular vote.
Mswati III appoints a minority of House of Assembly members, and the majority are elected. He appoints a majority of the Senate, the prime minister and other key members of the government.
As king, or the “Ngwenyama” — which means lion — Mswati III is sometimes advised by a council but has executive and legislative powers under law in the country of 1.2 million people and makes decisions by decree.
A little over 500,000 people were registered to vote in Friday’s election, the electoral body said. The African Union and the regional Southern African Development Community bloc sent observers.
Mswati has faced increased pro-democracy protests in recent years, but activists demanding reform encountered a harsh crackdown from police and security forces under the king’s control in June 2021, with dozens killed.
The push for reform has continued, focusing primarily on allowing political parties and for the prime minister to be democratically elected.
Two members of parliament were jailed for calling for democratic reforms during the 2021 protests. They were convicted this year under an anti-terrorism law that rights groups say is only designed to suppress criticism of Mswati and halt the push for democracy.
The lawmakers, Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, now face up to 20 years in prison, according to CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society groups.
Mswati has been accused of living lavishly while Eswatini’s people struggle with widespread poverty, the world’s highest HIV infection rate per capita and a life expectancy of 57 years, one of the lowest in the world.
A 2008 report by Forbes magazine estimated Mswati’s wealth at $200 million. He owns private jets, a fleet of luxury cars and reportedly wore a suit beaded with diamonds to his 50th birthday celebration. The king has at least 15 wives and has been criticized for using public money to build palaces for them.
In its latest assessment, the World Bank estimated that more than half of Eswatini’s people live on less than $3.65 a day.
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“The Creator”: A Glimpse Into A Future Defined By Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare
By Cindy Porter
In “The Creator” visionary director Gareth Edwards thrusts us into the heart of a dystopian future, where the battle lines are drawn between artificial intelligence and the free Western world.
Set against the backdrop of a post-rebellion Los Angeles, the film grapples with pressing questions about the role of AI in our society.
A Fusion of Genres
Edwards embarks on an ambitious endeavor, blending elements of science fiction classics with contemporary themes.
The result is a cinematic stew reminiscent of James Cameron’s “Aliens” tinged with shades of “Blade Runner” a dash of “Children of Men,” and a sprinkle of “Akira” This concoction, while intriguing, occasionally veers toward familiarity rather than forging its own distinct identity.
Edwards’ Cinematic Journey
The British filmmaker, known for his foray into doomsday scenarios with the BBC docudrama “End Day” in 2005, has traversed a path from indie gem “Monsters” (2010) to the expansive Star Wars universe with “Rogue One” (2016).
“The Creator” marks another bold step in his repertoire. The film introduces compelling concepts like the posthumous donation of personality traits, punctuated by impactful visuals, and raises pertinent ethical dilemmas. It stands as a commendable endeavor, even if it occasionally falters in execution.
In his pursuit of depth, Edwards at times stumbles into the realm of convolution, leaving the audience grappling with intricacies rather than immersing in the narrative.
While adept at crafting visual spectacles and orchestrating soundscapes, the film occasionally falters in the art of storytelling.
In an era where classic storytelling is seemingly on the wane, some may argue that this approach is emblematic of the times.
AI: Savior or Peril?
“The Creator” leaves us with a question that resonates long after the credits roll: Will artificial intelligence be humanity’s salvation or its undoing? The film’s take on machine ethics leans toward simplicity, attributing AI emotions to programmed responses.
This portrayal encapsulates the film’s stance on the subject – a theme as enigmatic as the AI it grapples with.
Director: Gareth Edwards.
Starring: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Madeleine Yuna Boyles, Ken Watanabe.
Genre: Science fiction.
Release Year: 2023.
Duration: 133 minutes.
Premiere Date: September 29.
Top 5 Movies by Gareth Edwards:
1. “Monsters” (2010)
– A breakout hit, “Monsters” showcases Edwards’ talent for blending intimate human drama with towering sci-fi spectacles. Set in a world recovering from an alien invasion, it’s a poignant tale of love amidst chaos.
2. “Rogue One” (2016)
– Edwards helms this epic Star Wars installment, seamlessly integrating new characters with the beloved original trilogy. It’s a testament to his ability to navigate complex narratives on a grand scale.
3. “End Day” (2005)
– This BBC docudrama marked Edwards’ entry into the world of speculative storytelling. Presenting five doomsday scenarios, it set the stage for his later exploration of dystopian futures.
4. “The Creator” (2023)
– Edwards’ latest venture, “The Creator,” immerses audiences in a future fraught with AI warfare. While not without its challenges, it boldly tackles pertinent questions about the role of artificial intelligence in our lives.
5. Potential Future Project
– As Edwards continues to push the boundaries of speculative cinema, audiences eagerly anticipate his next cinematic endeavor, poised to be another thought-provoking addition to his illustrious filmography.
“The Creator” stands as a testament to Gareth Edwards’ unyielding vision and his penchant for exploring the frontiers of speculative cinema.
While it doesn’t shy away from the complexities of AI, it occasionally falters in navigating its intricate narrative.
As we peer into this cinematic crystal ball, we’re left with a stark question: Will artificial intelligence be our beacon of hope, or will it cast a shadow over humanity’s future? Only time will unveil the answer.
We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!
— By Cindy Porter
— For more information & news submissions: info@VoiceOfEU.com
— Anonymous news submissions: press@VoiceOfEU.com
From YouTube to TikTok: The electoral weapons that Javier Milei has deployed in Argentina | International
The far-right Javier Milei, 52, has become the favored candidate to win the October 22 presidential elections in Argentina… even though he has barely toured the country.
Milei —an economist and TV panellist by profession— visited 13 of the 24 provinces during the primaries, yet still won in more than half of the provinces he didn’t visit. Among them, the case of Salta was especially surprising. In the northern Andean province – where he achieved his best result – 49.38% of the voters voted for him in the mid-August primaries. Milei has been called the “candidate of television studios,” because he rose from being a talk show host to a member of Congress in less than five years. But you could also call him the YouTube and TikTok candidate, because, if social media is the new public square, Javier Milei is shouting the loudest.
No other candidate for the presidency has managed to dominate the discourse of social media like the far-right economist does – especially with so little effort and even fewer staffers.
Patricia Bullrich —the candidate of the traditional right— remains the most popular on Twitter. Sergio Massa —the current Minister of Economy and the presidential candidate for the left-wing Peronist alliance— is Facebook’s favorite. But Milei dominates Instagram and TikTok, the preferred spaces of voters under the age of 29, who make up a third of the electorate. He’s also the most popular candidate on YouTube… although not because of the content put out by his official channels.
“Around the world, the parties that are linked to the right have a special place in social media. In Argentina, this is the case of La Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advances, a far-right coalition) and its leader, Javier Milei,” explains Ana Slimovich, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires. For the researcher, this is because these political forces “construct discourses with simple language, which isn’t technical… it appeals to emotions, both positive and negative ones.” Milei began his campaign by comparing himself to a lion who came “to awaken other lions, not to guide the sheep.” Today, he walks around Buenos Aires with a chainsaw —a symbol of the cuts to the public sector that he intends to implement should he take office.
Milei, Slimovich notes, has grown strong because of the sporadic organization that his followers have built, including those beyond the party’s structure. Accounts like @elPelucaMilei or @MileiPresidente have almost a million followers and act as the most important spokespeople for the libertarian. They have almost four times more followers than Milei’s official channel, getting millions of views from videos that they cut, edit and publish. The most popular ones are the clips of television interviews with titles celebrating how Milei “destroyed” or “annihilated” journalists or political opponents in live debates.
“Even if the candidate isn’t present, they’re reproducing his speech,” Slimovich says. “This explains the [high number of votes] he gets in places where he’s not physically present. His followers on social media are always present, resharing his speeches. And, of course, the mass media also disseminates his content.” The same thing happens on TikTok, Instagram or Twitter, where online libertarian militants churn out viral memes that Milei often shares.
Agustín Romo – director of digital communications and a congressional candidate for La Libertad Avanza – states that only about 15 people work for pay in the libertarian campaign, but that “90% of the content is produced ad honorem.” For Romo, Milei’s victory in places he has never visited “sets the tone for an epochal change in the way of doing politics.”
Milei jumped into politics from the world of TV. With this background, he then imposed his anti-establishment fury on the political debate and amplified it via social media. In the last year, the country began to talk about the dollarization of the economy or the sale of organs —subjects that Milei brought to the table. “We use social media to install our own narrative and our agenda. If we put out a song in the morning, at night, everyone is talking about it,” Romo laughs.
The digital strategist believes that his candidate’s success in getting his agenda out there has two ingredients. On the one hand, Milei projects a message that connects with the electorate. This discourse among candidates —who present themselves as “outsiders” who aren’t really part of the political system— was successful for Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Milei often says that the “decadence” of the country is the product of a “political caste (or class)” that prioritizes its interests “at the expense of the people.” On the other hand, the consultant continues, the “libertarian movement” has been brewing for “10 years,” but “it had no political representation” until Javier Milei arrived on the scene.
The leading presidential candidate is also advised by Fernando Cerimedo —a major figure in digital communications among the Latin American extreme-right. A report published by the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation (CLIP) revealed that the consultant has spread “messages based on lies in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.” Cerimedo was one of the great agitators behind the accusation —presented without evidence— that Lula da Silva won the recent presidential elections in Brazil only because of electoral fraud. Some of this influence has already been seen in Milei’s campaign. On August 13 —despite being the candidate with the most votes in the primaries— Milei insisted that votes had been stolen from him.
Among the left-wing Peronist coalition, they admit that they’ve started this campaign with a disadvantage. Their candidate was announced as a surprise: Minister of Finance Sergio Massa —who has been in politics since 1999— was proclaimed “as a unity candidate” on June 23. He opened his TikTok account days later. “This happened to us when [Massa] contested the presidency in 2015 —Mauricio Macri’s campaign (which ultimately won) had a better-developed social media campaign. We balanced it out, but we were far behind. We prioritize other forms, other types of campaigning,” a member of the campaign tells EL PAÍS.
Sergio Massa’s advisors say that they still see a scenario of the vote being divided into thirds, but that “the most stark polarization is with Milei.” Massa’s social media campaign is now being supported by Lula da Silva’s advisors, who have joined the Spanish consultant Antoni Gutiérrez Rubí. “They came to share their experiences with us about the two elections that they had to fight against Bolsonaro: the one that Fernando Haddad lost [in 2018] and the one that Lula won [in 2022]. They’re working with us on the possibility of reaching the runoff [election] in November.”
In Massa’s race to attract young voters, the latest to join the campaign on TikTok has been the current vice president (and former president from 2007 until 2015), Cristina Kirchner. The main representative of the Peronist movement opened her account this past Monday and has already uploaded dozens of videos. Ironically, less than five months ago, she urged young people to not spend more than “20 minutes a day on TikTok.”
Massa’s left wing coalition —made up of traditional parties that are accustomed to large street events and rallies— is beginning to make its presence more known online. The current president, Alberto Fernández —who decided against seeking re-election— recently answered questions with his dog on Instagram. And Massa has begun to announce his economic proposals via short videos tailored to social media. His younger supporters and party members were the ones who encouraged him.
After Milei’s victory in the primaries, a group of young Peronists began to reflect on their poor communications strategy and created a TikTok account —@Indisciplinadxs— to create a “new space” in the campaign. “Social media is a disputed territory where we’re not fighting. And, if we’re fighting, we’re doing so incorrectly,” lament two members of @Indisciplinadxs. A recent video —in which they showed how voters are misinformed on a certain topic— went viral and reached 166,000 people. “The battle on social media shouldn’t be considered lost,” they insist. “The field is wide-open — there are ways to take advantage of it.”
Patricia Bullrich —the candidate for the traditional center-right Together for Change coalition— is also staking out her place in the presidential race. She won her party primaries against the current mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Bullrich deployed a “tough-on-crime” rhetoric, while Larreta, a moderate, prioritized dialogue and centrist policies. While Bullrich ultimately emerged triumphant, the question remains whether she can retain the votes of her formal rival, while trying to take on Massa and Milei, who have mostly focused their attacks on each other.
Her social media consultants are taking a careful look at her opposition. “I’m not looking at everything that Massa put out online as much, because what Milei does is more striking,” explains Yasmin Hassan, Bullrich’s principal advisor. The most positive element that Hassan sees in her party is similar to what Milei has going for him: an organic bloc of adherents who, of their own free will, circulate information for the campaign. They call the movement “Bullrichmania” —it consists of groups of self-convened online warriors, who spread information via WhatsApp groups.
Bullrich —who served as security minister under President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019)— has focused on pointing out the corruption that has taken place in the Kirchnerist governments: from 2003 until 2007, when Néstor Kirchner governed, from 2007 until 2015, when his wife, Cristina, governed, as well as the present administration, where she serves as vice president.
The bulk of her interactions on social media are with voters who similarly point out the corruption or bad policies of the ruling party.
Last week, a criminal court reopened two corruption cases against the former president and current VP. Immediately, Bullrich released her latest campaign video: in one minute, she revealed the model of a new maximum security prison for criminals that, she promised, will have a wing that is named after Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The candidate got what she was looking for: on Saturday, while Kirchner was speaking at her first public appearance in months, the video was already trending.
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Africa’s Eswatini, one of the last absolute monarchies, holds an election without political parties | International
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