The World Today for April 03, 2024

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A Cut of Control


The Gambia banned female genital mutilation in 2015 because officials said the tradition of partially removing girls’ genitalia violated human rights. It didn’t, however, enforce it until last year.

That’s when the trouble began.

Now, lawmakers in the tiny West African country, under pressure from influential imams, are considering reversing the ban to “uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values,” reported Semafor. If the new measure passes, it would be the first country to do such a reversal, undoing decades of work to end the centuries-old ritual tied up in ideas of sexual purity, obedience and control, the New York Times explained.

The change is connected to the end of President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule in 2017. Jammeh, an autocrat who frequently jailed and tortured his political opponents, supported female genital mutilation, saying opponents of the practice were “enemies of Islam.” But Jammeh reversed himself in 2015 – potentially because of his more progressively minded Moroccan wife.

Female genital mutilation is common in The Gambia. Seventy-three percent of women between the ages of 15 to 49 in the country have been subjected to the procedure, a statistic that has remained level for three decades, noted Agence France-Presse.

Around 144 million girls in Africa have been cut, usually at the urging of their families, who believe the practice is necessary in order for the girls to be acceptable for marriage, according to the United Nations. The UN noted that as of 2024, 230 million girls worldwide have been subjected to the practice, a 15 percent increase compared with 2016.

Girls who have been cut frequently experience bleeding, infection, psychological trauma, sexual dysfunction, complicated childbirths and, in extreme cases, death, reported Reuters, citing the World Health Organization.

This increase reflects growing populations in countries where female genital mutilation is common, wrote Le Monde, as well as rising poverty since the pandemic and a corresponding decrease in educational opportunities for girls.

In some countries, meanwhile, the percentages of females undergoing the procedure have been decreasing due to efforts by national and international organizations to educate on the practice’s negative effects.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Gambian National Assembly member Lamin Ceesay, who represents a constituency where female genital mutilation is common, casts doubt on those negative side effects.

Other proponents of the practice – mostly imans and the nearly all-male parliament – framed the ban reversal as giving Gambian women a choice between traditional and modern lifestyles, added the Nation, a Kenyan newspaper. Critics of female genital mutilation would say that many girls undergo it when they are as young as five years old, too young to make such a decision.

Jammeh’s successor, President Adama Barrow, has avoided discussing the issue in public, as has the minister in charge of women and families.

Many Gambians worry that the ban reversal heralds the beginning of a broader rollback of women’s rights. As a result, they are girding for political action. “If this law gets repealed, we know they’re coming for more,” anti-female genital mutilation activist Fatou Baldeh told the Council on Foreign Relations. “So we will fight it to the end.”

As she notes, their lives might depend on it.


Fresh Air


Senegalese opposition politician Bassirou Diomaye Faye was sworn in Tuesday as Senegal’s youngest-ever president, promising radical reform and stability after an uptick of unrest in the West African nation long held up as a democratic model for the region, Agence France-Presse reported.

Faye, a 44-year-old, left-wing pan-Africanist, won more than 54 percent of the vote in last month’s presidential election, just 10 days after being released from prison.

In his inaugural address, Faye – who has never held elected office before – pledged to defend national sovereignty and achieve African unity, emphasizing systemic change and a peaceful, democratic Senegal.

He was among a group of opposition politicians released from prison just days before the March 24 presidential ballot, following an amnesty declared by former President Macky Sall, who had initially attempted to postpone the election.

Faye’s campaign resonated with voters seeking change amid political turmoil and economic challenges. He vowed to prioritize national reconciliation, address the cost of living crisis, and combat corruption.

He has also pledged to restore sovereignty over key sectors like oil, gas, and fishing, and invest in agriculture to achieve self-sufficiency in food. He wants to leave the regional CFA currency union, calling it a legacy of French colonialism.

Internationally, the young leader seeks to re-engage with the military juntas of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger to bring them back as members to the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The three left after ECOWAS pressured the countries’ leaders to restore democracy.

Despite a decisive victory, analysts say that Faye will face serious challenges.

Currently, he lacks a majority in parliament to pass laws and faces the daunting task of creating jobs in a youthful nation where unemployment is officially running at 20 percent.

Shooting the Messenger


Israel’s parliament on Monday passed a law allowing the government to shut down Al Jazeera, a news outlet that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deems a threat to national security, the New York Times reported.

After the bill was approved, Netanyahu vowed to immediately block Al Jazeera’s activities and broadcasts in the country.

Long-standing tensions with the Qatar-based network, a critic of the right-wing prime minister, have mounted since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack. Netanyahu has described the channel as “terrorist” and a “mouthpiece” of the Palestinian group, which the US and the European Union designate as a terror group.

Israel’s intelligence organization Mossad backed the decision, saying the network revealed the locations of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, Israel’s public broadcaster Kan reported.

Passing in a 71-10 vote in the Knesset, the law enables the government to temporarily close Al Jazeera’s offices in Israel and remove it from television networks.

“It is impossible to tolerate a media outlet, with press credentials from the Government Press Office and offices in Israel, acting from within against us, certainly during wartime,” Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said.

In a statement, Al Jazeera condemned Netanyahu’s “dangerous ludicrous lie” and said the move incited violence against its journalists, citing specific reporters killed by Israeli attacks.

In 2022, IDF soldiers shot dead Al Jazeera’s Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank. A report commissioned by the United Nations concluded that the IDF used “lethal force without justification.” Many reporters working for the network, and their relatives, have been killed since the war in the Gaza Strip began.

International media has been dependent on Gazan reporters because foreign journalists have been banned from entering Gaza.

In the first five months of the war, Israeli strikes in Gaza killed at least 103 journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Twenty-two were killed while they were reporting, while others were specifically targeted, the organization said.

RSF demanded the new law be repealed, saying it marked “unprecedented censorship” and noting that Al Jazeera remained one of the few international outlets that could cover the war on-the-ground.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre called the law “concerning.” “The United States supports the critically important work journalists do around the world, and that includes those who are reporting on the conflict in Gaza,” she said.

Gambling With a Reputation


Singapore sentenced a Cambodian national to 13 months in prison Tuesday, the first defendant to plead guilty in the country’s biggest money laundering scandal, one that has damaged the Southeast Asian island-state’s reputation as a financial hub, CNBC reported.

Su Wenqiang had faced 11 charges relating to forgery and laundering criminal proceeds. Prosecutors charged him with two counts of money laundering following a deal to consider the remaining nine indictments for sentencing.

Police told CNBC that it has seized more than $4 million worth of assets from the defendant, including nearly $1.5 million in a bank account with United Overseas Bank, a Mercedes Benz vehicle, and jewelry from Tiffany’s.

Authorities arrested Su and nine others of Chinese origin over their involvement in the operation of an illegal, offshore remote gambling service out of the Philippines that catered to mainland Chinese clients.

Two other suspects are still on the run.

The case stunned the small city-state known for being Asia’s top financial center and strong reputation for the rule of law, according to Channel News Asia (CNA).

Singaporean authorities have so far seized more than $2 billion in assets in relation to the case.

Prosecutors told CNA that the case was vital to maintain Singapore’s reputation as a legitimate financial hub, adding that a harsh sentence must be given to deter other like-minded individuals from exploiting the country to launder funds.

Second Minister for Home Affairs, Josephine Teo told parliament, that criminals will try to exploit Singapore’s economic openness and strong reputation for the rule of law to launder money and create the appearance of legitimacy. It was therefore vital for Singapore’s reputation as a legitimate financial hub that money laundering offences be punished.


Snake Puffs

Too much meat isn’t good for the planet or for human health, researchers say, so the hunt is on for alternatives.

Ostriches, alligators and insects have been sneaking their way onto menus.

Now, a recent study has proposed that snake meat could be a sustainable replacement for beef and poultry, Science Alert reported.

An international team of researchers looked into the feasibility of farming pythons on a commercial scale and the environmental impact such a practice would have.

Their research focused on two python species – Malayopython reticulatus and Python bivittatus – reared in farms in Thailand and Vietnam for a year before being humanely killed.

Their findings were promising: Unlike normal livestock, pythons grew rapidly and yielded a good amount of meat even during periods of fasting.

The team explained that the ratio of food consumed versus the meat produced was 1.2 in pythons, while in salmon and poultry the ratios were 1.5 and 2.8, respectively. Beef was 10.0.

A lower ratio number means greater efficiency, which suggests that “it is biologically and economically feasible to breed and raise pythons in captive production facilities for commercial trade,” they wrote.

They added that because snakes can fast for months without losing much body mass, this means that they consume fewer resources such as food and water.

Still, the study found that feeding snakes can be labor intensive and it’s unclear how this practice would work on an industrial scale.

And then there’s the question of taste and preference – although the researchers suggested that the reptile meat tastes like chicken and it’s low in fat, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation added.

“Coupled with the general fear humans have toward snakes, it may be some time before the agricultural potential of pythons is realized at the global scale,” the authors noted.

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