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Ugandan star among those taking to the airwaves with a message on how to avoid spreading Covid-19

Bobi Wine, a Ugandan musician and rising political force, has joined the likes of footballer-turned-president George Weah in resorting to song to help stem the spread of coronavirus in Africa.

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, worked with fellow artist Nubian Li to release a song on Wednesday laced with east Africas signature rhumba melodies about the importance of personal hygiene.

The bad news is that everyone is a potential victim, Wine sings. But the good news is that everyone is a potential solution.

The pair exhort people to regularly wash hands, keep a distance and look out for symptoms such as a fever and cough.

Uganda on Wednesday confirmed five more cases of Covid-19, bringing its tally to 14, four days after it recorded its first patient. President Yoweri Musevenis government has already taken a raft of measures including sealing off borders, closing bars, and banning public gatherings to contain the outbreak.

Liberian president Weah also released a six-minute song on Wednesday, called Lets Stand Together and Fight Coronavirus, in which he explains how the virus is spread and urges hand washing to a backing of harmonised female vocals and upbeat guitar music from a group called The Rabbis.

From Europe to America, from America to Africa, take precautions, and be safe, the former football icon sings.

Weahs spokesman Solo Kelgbeh said the president produced a similar song during the Ebola crisis, and that he started working on the new single before coronavirus even reached Liberia.

The song serves a practical purpose, Kelgbeh said. Liberia is a country where a majority of the people dont have access to internet and Facebook, but everyone listens to radio, he said. This song will be played on various radio stations in the country … to have the message spread sufficiently.

The country of 4.8 million people, which has banned travel to and from virus-hit countries, has recorded three coronavirus cases to date. As with other poverty-stricken states in the region, there are fears about Liberias capacity to respond to an outbreak.

The country was the worst affected by the 2014-16 West African Ebola outbreak, when more than 4,800 people died.

In Senegal, activist hip-hop group Yen a Marre have recorded a rap about washing hands, disposing of used tissues and avoiding crowds in their latest release, called Shield against Coronavirus.

Uganda has a history of using music to tackle other outbreaks.

Songs about HIV/Aids by another Ugandan crooner Philly Bongoley Lutaaya helped spread awareness in the 1980s and 90s and bring down sky-high infection rates. He later died of the disease.

Joel Ssenyonyi, Bobi Wines spokesman, told Reuters the singer had distributed press releases on Covid-19 and handed out jerry cans and soap to improve hand washing in communities.

One other creative way of communicating is through music, Ssenyonyi said. Most people love to listen to music so what better way to put across a message than through music.

Reuters and AFP contributed to this report

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Raised to hide her low caste, Yashica Dutts new book traces her realisation that her history is one of oppression, not shame

Pretending not to be a Dalit took a heavy toll on the young Yashica Dutt.

Her mother, Shashi, was so determined to protect her three children from the discrimination of the Hindu caste system that relegates Dalits to the periphery of society that she pretended the family were Brahmin.

Shashi worked hard to find the money throw birthday parties, have curtains on the windows, and to follow traditional rituals correctly. But for the children it meant that one wrong word or gesture while playing with friends or buying sweets from a shopkeeper could expose the lie.

It was only after she had grown up, that Dutt, a writer and journalist, began to understand the trauma of her childhood. When she began therapy in New Delhi six years ago, she simply asked her analyst: Help me to live.

I was always second-guessing myself, wondering if I had said the right thing, asking myself would upper caste people with happier childhoods have said it better or done it differently? I had so much doubt from feeling like an imposter, she says.

Dutt recounts the story in her book, Coming Out as Dalit.It tells of her mothers ambition to overcome poverty and give her children an education, without support and with an alcoholic husband. Dutt went to boarding school and then studied at St Stephens, perhaps the most prestigious university in India. She worked as a journalist in New Delhi and pursued a masters at Columbia University in New York, where she now lives and works for an advertising agency.

In the US Dutt, 34, discovered a parallel with her own experience. She heard some lighter-skinned African Americans talk of how they used to pass as white, assuming certain habits, tastes, language and mannerisms, just as her mother had mimicked those of upper caste Hindus.

As part of her book tour, Dutt was back in India appearing at the Jaipur Literature Festival last month; when the Guardian met her in a New Delhi cafe, she cut a striking figure with her wavy hair, black leather jacket and hands flashing with chunky rings.

Guilt entered her soul early and settled into sediment, she says. First it was guilt at her mother educating her when she could not afford it. Then it was guilt at having survived and enjoyed opportunities for education that so many in her community had never had and never would.

Her parents, though poor, were educated and lived in a city (Ajmer in Rajasthan) rather than a village and that allowed the family to conceal its caste in a way that is impossible for the majority of Indias approximately 200 million Dalits who live in rural areas.

Conversely, Dutt is concerned about the absence of guilt among upper caste Indians. While some white people joined the civil rights moment in the US or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the upper castes are nowhere to be seen in the Dalit struggle against discrimination, she says.

On the contrary, she says, there isnt even the same kind of open discourse here of the kind you have in the US about racism, white supremacy, which is all mainstream. Instead of acknowledging discrimination, upper caste Indians, instead of taking responsibility, have deluded themselves into thinking they are already living in a post-caste society.

She marks parallels with America in the wilful innocence that James Baldwin wrote of in that white Americans failed to understand what they had done to African Americans and that the race problem was their problem.

At Columbia, she was astounded to find black, Hispanic and gay classmates openly sharing their stories of discrimination without feeling any need to hide. Their accounts did not lead to the kind of social isolation she used to fear, but rather elicited sympathy from fellow students.

Even Dutts moments of triumph as a young girl, she says, were accompanied by self-flagellation. After much imploring by Shashi, she was finally accepted by Mussoorie Public School where her mother hoped she would pick up all the remaining social markers of upper caste culture from the other girls that she would need throughout her life to blend in.

Dutt came top of her class. I felt nothing. To my mind, if someone like me could score so well, then this school couldnt be all that great, she says.

Caste haunted Dutt, who choose to work as a fashion journalist in India, eschewing politics for fear that in writing a story or expressing an opinion she might reveal her caste. The fear of being outed was a permanent cloud. If people knew, would they even sit next to me?

It was not until 2016, in New York, that Dutt felt able to come out. That year, suicide of a Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, at Hyderabad University, was a huge story in India. His last letter began: My birth is my fatal accident.

Unlike me, Rohith did nothing to bury his Dalitness. Instead, he used it to stand up for Dalit students at Hyderabad University, she writes in her book. His pride and courage despite enjoying none of her advantages prompted Dutt to write a Facebook post announcing her real caste. Vemulas death, she wrote, made me realise that my history is one of oppression, not shame.

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Once a campus fundamentalist who hid his sexuality, today Bagia Arif Saputra helps others find harmony in Indonesias capital

When Bagia Arif Saputra was growing up in a university town near Jakarta, becoming a jihadist seemed a natural choice for young men like him, who were steeped in the teachings of Islamic fundamentalism. Less easy was reconciling this identity with his sexuality.

I was living a double life, says Saputra. I would go to the campus mosque, try to focus on my prayers and find myself checking out a guy and thinking, Nice ass. And then immediately, Astaghfirullah [God forgive me]! So then I would have to redo my prayers. It was a vicious cycle.

Saputra, now 34 and openly gay, recounts this serenely at the meditation centre he runs in the centre of the Indonesian capital. As a mindfulness expert who spent his formative years in student jihadist circles in conservative West Java, his life has combined two vastly different currents of modern Indonesia since its transition to democracy in 1998: the rise of religious piety and fundamentalism, and the explosion of a young, globalised middle-class.

At the Golden Space meditation centre, in a high-rise apartment block, Saputra says he first attracted wider attention when he started appearing on the Indonesian lecture circuit as an ex-closeted gay jihadist who found his dream job.

The mere fact of openly identifying as gay in Indonesia, where in recent years the LGBTQ+ community has faced a rise in hateful political rhetoric , raids, and potential criminalisation, seemed remarkable.

My parents definitely cried and were upset with my choice, he says, recalling coming out to his family in June 2015, during Ramadan. But they still love me and today we have a great relationship.

Saputra grew up in Bandung, a university town three hours east of Jakarta that is known both for its lively cafe culture and as a hotbed of fundamentalism. He went to a pesantren, a traditional Muslim boarding school, and then to the Indonesia University of Education.

In college, he felt adrift and was soon recruited to the Tarbiyah movement, the student wing of an Indonesian Islamist party modelled on the Muslim Brotherhood. This provided him with a sense of belonging.

He adopted the mannerisms of Salafis, puritanical Muslims who seek to revive the traditions of Quranic times: wearing ankle-length trousers and an untrimmed beard, refusing to shake hands with women, forgoing music and TV. At the time Indonesian Islamists were gripped by the Palestinian intifada and they stayed up late plotting to fight jihad alongside those they considered their Muslim brothers.

I was ready to die, says Saputra. Becoming a jihadist seemed like an easy way to go straight to heaven.

Some of the older boys were later recruited to Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian affiliate of al-Qaida.

But Saputra was becoming tormented by the clash between his fundamentalist peer group and his suppressed homosexuality. No matter how hard I tried to pray the gay away, it didnt happen, he says.

He eventually withdrew for a different reason. His parents were upset by his growing disinterest in school and he realised he had gone too far for even his pious Muslim family. At one point, he says, he had even reprimanded his mother for wearing a hijab that was too short.

He left the group, graduated and headed to Jakarta, where he plunged into the underground gay scene.

There, he spent his nights with lonely strangers and days on a carousel of corporate jobs. And he started calling himself an atheist.

Then in February 2015 a friend gave him a week-long meditation course that changed his life. He studied with Umesh Nandwani, a Singapore-based meditation practitioner and Golden Space founder who, Saputra says, was one of the first people to recognise that he was gay.

I dont know how he knew, but he unlocked something within me, Saputra says.

Within four months of completing the course, he had become a dedicated practitioner himself and had come out to most of the people in his life. Nandwani recruited him to open Golden Space Jakarta in late 2016 and today he oversees 15 trainers.

Meditation is still something new for Indonesians, says Saputra. Some of them think its a religious practice and is part of Hinduism or Buddhism. I have to explain to them that its non-religious and that anyone can benefit from it.

At least one in five Indonesians are now middle class, according to the World Bank, and they are concentrated in Java and particularly in Jakarta. While meditation studios are still scarcer than in the holiday island of Bali, those in the capital are riding the wave of Jakartas burgeoning wellness industry.

Saputra, who met his partner of eight months at a meditation class, says that despite his own positive experiences since coming out, it is still not easy to be gay in Indonesia.

Most of my gay friends here are not open, and with good reason. One of them had to undergo an exorcism when his parents found out, he says. Closeted people often come up to him after speaking engagements, from teenagers to married men, and confess that they are torn about their identity.

I try to lead by example, he says. To plant the seed that there is a possibility of being openly gay in Indonesia and having a good life.

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Colombias farmers can hope again after bloody decades of civil war but theyre not relying on politicians to help them

Don Jos Manuel Suarez has seen some things. Father of seven and grandfather of 15, his 80 years have been spent farming a patch of land that has also been a battleground in the longest civil war in modern history. At an outdoor meeting of a co-operative of banana farmers in Cinaga, near the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, Don Jos Manuel sits in one shady corner of a clearing, patiently waiting his turn to speak. The other men and women are his old friends and neighbours. The question Ive asked them is this: what have been the worst of times, and what the best?

In the hot morning sun, among the creaking plants hung with clenched hands of green bananas, the answers to the first part of that question have come thick and fast.

The farmers have seen regular hurricanes that have flattened their crop (some are just recovering from Maria); they have seen guerrilla fighters use their land and their homes as if they were their own, taking their chickens, sleeping in their beds, cooking with their pots; they have paid escalating protection money vacuna to paramilitaries to avoid being kicked out or worse.

These successive waves of disaster and humiliation and threat seem all to have been intended to make the smallholders sell up their patches of land to the big landowners producing palm oil and to move to Bogot or Medelln and take their chances. Others have gone, but each one of the farmers gathered here has stayed. The one or two hectares that support each of their extended families have been passed from father to son or daughter some for four or five generations.

Founding member of the Coobafro banana co-operative, Don Jos Manuel Suarez, 80, in his house, built in part with the Fairtrade premium. Photograph: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

As the farmers tell these stories, they occasionally defer to Don Jos Manuel Suarez and he corroborates them from the history he holds in his head. When it eventually comes to the old mans turn to answer my question, he leans forward, carefully removes his wide-brimmed hat, and prefaces his comments with a quiet apology. My wife of 53 years, he says, died 19 days ago, so forgive me, I am not myself. And then he explains how, if he thought hard about my question, the worst day of all was probably when they came for his boots.

This would have been in 1995. For once hed had a decent payday from his banana crop, his old boots were worn out, so he had bought a new pair up in Santa Marta. The first morning he tried them on, some guerrillas came through he was rarely sure from which group and one of them, a woman with an AK-47 across her back, asked him what size his feet were. When he said seven a smile spread across her face. Ill have those boots, she said. Don Jos Manuel had no option but to hand them over. There have been plenty of traumas in his life he is still, 22 years on, in debt to a moneylender on a small loan he had taken in 1996 to keep his family together after Hurricane Cesar-Douglas but the loss of the boots summed up all the rest. Like the other farmers, he had lived nearly his whole life knowing that however hard he worked, whatever he did for his family, on any day anything and everything could be taken from him.

Sitting listening to Don Jos Manuels story in the sun, Im tempted to think of his life as a sequel. The most famous story ever told about these banana groves came from the Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Mrquez, whose fictional Macondo was based on his boyhood town of Aracataca, a few miles from where we sit. The autobiographical engine of Mrquezs masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was the transformation brought to this region by the arrival of the United Fruit Company and its banana boats bound for America and Europe at the turn of the 20th century. The company used slave labour working at night to force a railway through the jungle to get the bananas to port. In Aracataca they built colonial-style houses around cool courtyards shaded with fig trees, in one of which Mrquez was born (and which you can now visit).

Map of Cinaga, Colombia

The 100 years of Mrquezs novel ended abruptly with a tragedy that still seems to scar the humid air here, and which made him a novelist. In Living to Tell the Tale, the memoir he wrote late in life, he recalled how the seed of all his fiction was planted in a trip he took aged 23 up through this valley, along the Ro Fro, the cold river, with his mother, to sell the old house. On arriving at the half-abandoned station of Cinaga, with its peeling paint, his mother pointed: Look, she said. Thats where the world ended. Mrquez followed her pointing finger and saw an arid little square. It was there that in 1928 the Colombian army had killed an untold number of banana workers; it was Colombias Easter Rising, a bloody reference point for much of the conflict that followed.

The banana workers of Cinaga had gone on strike against the unrelenting harshness of their working conditions. They had been called into the square by the United Fruit Company to negotiate an end to their dispute. Once they were packed in, a government soldier read a decree in which the striking workers were declared lawbreakers. They were given five minutes to leave the square and return to work. When they did not move, soldiers opened fire on the crowd, full of women and children, from rooftops. The clattering machine guns spitting in white-hot bursts, Mrquez wrote, the crowd trapped by panic as it was cut down, little by little, by the methodical, insatiable scissors of the shrapnel.

If the world ended for the novelists family that day the United Fruit Company handed the railway back to government and it began to fall into disrepair, the plantation houses of Aracataca were abandoned it was only chapter one for those who stayed.

The massacre in the square set in motion a 90-year war, and the banana groves throughout northern Colombia were subsequently on the never-ending frontline.

Workers stack bananas for shipping at Santa Marta port. Photograph: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

The war began between the big plantation owners and government, who refused unionised labour, and revolutionary groups who eventually took to the jungle to resist them. By the late 1960s that conflict was becoming a way of life. It was fuelled over the next three decades by the great wash of money and corruption from the cocaine trade and it took on a kind of hallucinatory violence. Official figures put the death toll at 220,000 though it is probably higher; 7 million people were internally displaced, mostly from rural communities. The long road toward peace culminated last year in a tentative accord between the Colombian government and the Farc, the most powerful and ruthless of several guerrilla groups, that once controlled a third of the country an agreement that won President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel peace prize. The peace will be tested by parliamentary elections on 11 March and presidential elections in May.

Sitting in the sun of Cinaga, the banana farmers express not much faith in the accord. They trust the intentions neither of the thousands of Farc rebels, many now housed in closely guarded rehabilitation camps around the country, awaiting acceptance and state help to reintegrate, nor the government which has rarely, if ever, seemed on their side. They put their faith instead in the things they can try to control and to build.

That faith starts to answer the second part of my question that morning: what have been the best of times? Without hesitation each of the farmers dates a slow upward shift in fortunes to a decision made a little over a decade ago, when they first made their instinctive comradeship a reality and banded together to become a certified Fairtrade co-operative, Coobafro, selling mostly into British markets, their bananas bound for Santa Marta, then for Portsmouth. The certification, once achieved, guaranteed them for the first time a local minimum price for their crop no longer were they at the mercy of shifting global markets and currency collapses; it also gave them a dollar-a-box premium to spend on priorities determined democratically.

The farmers, led by Don Jos Manuel, list the things that have changed for them in the decade since then: the fact that they can now withstand hurricanes, because the co-operative has built an insurance fund that supports the farmers affected; the fact that they can afford to invest in their soil management (they receive rigorous training 31 days a year in best practice from Fairtrade-sponsored specialists) Banafrucoop, a nearby Fairtrade co-operative delivered the highest per hectare yield in the world last year. But above all they point to the fact that they have learned solidarity, where once they thought they were on their own.

Their collective ambition has evolved. At first the plan was to put half of the thousands of dollars Fairtrade premium they received into increasing productivity. It was only after yields started to improve that they voted to create a minimum standard of living for each member of the co-operative. Most of the farmers had wooden shacks, in which they lived and slept. It was collectively decided each of the 46 farmers in the group should have at least a kitchen and a toilet and a living room. Two years ago, they achieved that aim.

Kelly Castanera proudly shows me around her house near where we have been sitting; the kitchen with cooker and running water; the sitting room with its ornate rocking chair. That room has other benefits: it means that she can entertain. The 11 women farmers within the co-operative have formed their own collective to make sure they are heard, and they meet weekly in each others new living rooms to discuss priorities. Some of the premium is now being used to send the brightest students at the local school to university. The first two girls on this programme tell me bright-eyed about their plans to come back here and teach, creating a little virtuous circle of investment.

After lifetimes of insecurity it is hard to convey how much this evidence of security, of planning, means to the group. You might say the farmers have had their fill of unpredictable magical realism; they far prefer predictable reality.

In the previous days travelling among the banana workers of the provinces of Magdalena and Urab Antioquia, on roads that until a year or two ago were notorious for what locals call miraculous fishing the disappearance and kidnapping of travellers Id seen other examples of how in this post-conflict world, small acts of certainty make all the difference. In recent years, there has in some quarters been a degree of scepticism about the value of interventions such as Fairtrade; supermarkets even long-term supporters like Sainsburys have looked at their squeezed margins and floated the idea of their own diluted fairly traded brand (an initiative widely condemned by producers last year). If anyone ever wants to tell you that the benefits of Fairtrade are intangible, though, or hard to measure, suggest to them that they visit the shanty community of banana workers at Barrio Obrero not far from where the Cinaga massacre occurred.

A family in their home at the Banafrucoop near Santa Marta. Photograph: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

An open sewer runs through the settlement. On one side of it, sitting in a hammock with his baby daughter, I talk to Alexander, who lives with four other families in a four-room house made of old planks with dirt floors. His work at unaccredited banana farms comes and goes. He looks out at the other side of the sewer where there is a development of whitewashed brick-built homes that would not look out of place in London. They also house banana workers, but this time from a Fairtrade farm, one that has chosen to spend its premium on building homes for its employees and backing a lending scheme to help them eventually own them.

Or suggest they visit one of the schools built with Fairtrade in Urab. For the banana workers kids at Funtragusta collective in El Tigre, school was for years a roving thing, taking place under various trees, depending on the whereabouts of guerrillas and paramilitaries; now children sit in a sunlit classroom listening to a teacher at a whiteboard.

At that school I met Zunilda Moreno and Lisbeth Audrey, who have more reason than most to understand the meaning of this change. We sit on infant school chairs and they tell me about the before and after of their lives. Moreno was 15 in 1994 when the guerrillas came down from the mountains to the large banana farm on which her father worked. She hid under the bed with her siblings all night. In the morning when the banana workers started arriving the guerrillas selected men off the bus, tied some up, killed others. When they came for her father Moreno could not stop herself running outside to try to protect him. She was attacked and raped in front of her father, a memory that 24 years on reduces her to sudden, heaving sobs. She became pregnant, subsequently giving birth to a son. She also now has two other children. Determinedly collecting herself, she reflects on how she has built hope out of that despair. She has studied hard and, having benefited from a limited amount of therapy is being sponsored by her Fairtrade co-operative to do a degree in child psychology.

Lisbeth Audreys mother worked at a banana farm canteen. Word went around that she had been overly friendly to one guerrilla . As a result a mob cut out her tongue and cut her body into pieces and left the pieces in the corner of the room. Audrey, now 41, recounts this horror as matter of factly as she can. She talks of how she is being sponsored to train as a social worker, to help others through what they have witnessed. Not everyone here has my story, she says, but everyone has a story.

In some ways, like any country emerging from a long conflict, the whole of Colombia can seem in need of social work, though it remains in short supply. One result of a war as long and brutal as this one is that it breeds a generation of politicians who are as at home discussing new hospitals as old bombing campaigns. The mayor of Apartad, Elicer Arteaga Vargas, sits in his office and recounts some of his youthful involvement in the EPL guerrilla group and the struggle for political change. Despite last years accord the culture is still more about violence than peace, he suggests. In January, his town hall was burned to the ground in riots; he suspects the arson was funded by drug cartels intent on destabilising the youth.

Zunilda Moreno, a psychology student, speaks at El Tigre school. Photograph: Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

Across town in a curious office-cum-parliament building above a row of shops the former comandante of the EPL guerrillas, Teodoro Manuel Daz Lobo, a charismatic man in a pork-pie hat, is now secretary-general of the Apartad region. Ask him about regrets and he talks in terms of long ago actions ordered against police stations and government forces; this history is weighed against his own efforts to negotiate peace in the 1990s at risk to his own life from comrades who had no wish to lay down their arms. When he talks about the prospect of a lasting peace he does so in terms of a return from old nightmares to real life.

For many that reality still seems an unlikely prospect. The worst of the cocaine war killing may have migrated to Mexico, but the infrastructure of what the politicians here call micro-trafficking remains a huge temptation for young men bred on violence and with no prospect of employment. The weapons the banana collectives have in that war dont always seem adequate, but they also seem worth clinging to. The farmers talk in terms of using their Fairtrade premium to pay for education scholarships, and create stable employment for young men; or to build football pitches or sponsor dance troupes and music groups to keep children off the streets.

The optimism of that commitment holds a tentative place here, one that you want to believe in. After the co-operative meeting in the sun, I head back with Don Jos Manuel Suarez to his house and, sitting on his verandah ask him if he ever stops to imagine the fruit bowls in Britain where all those bananas he has grown and cut and packaged over the years end up. He smiles. When people used to say the European market, he says, it didnt have any meaning for him. Now, though, in the brick-built house that stands on the site of the wooden shack he and his wife and children once lived in, in the place where 20 years ago he lost the boots he stood up in, he now has a television set. So he now knows just what Europe looks like.

Does he ever get sick of the sight of bananas, I wonder, before I leave?

Not at all, he says. He eats green bananas every day, one with breakfast, one with lunch. It is, he suggests, the thing that really keeps him going.

Fairtrade Fortnight runs from 26 Feb-11 March;

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How Colombia’s banana cooperatives are helping boost the country’s economy – video

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The peasant rebels took up arms in 1994, and now number 300,000 in centres with their own doctors, teachers and currency, but rarely answer questions until now

Mexicos Zapatista rebels, 24 years on and defiant in mountain strongholds

The peasant rebels took up arms in 1994, and now number 300,000 in centres with their own doctors, teachers and currency, but rarely answer questions until now

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The long read: Work has ruled our lives for centuries, and it does so today more than ever. But a new generation of thinkers insists there is an alternative

Work is the master of the modern world. For most people, it is impossible to imagine society without it. It dominates and pervades everyday life especially in Britain and the US more completely than at any time in recent history. An obsession with employability runs through education. Even severely disabled welfare claimants are required to be work-seekers. Corporate superstars show off their epic work schedules. Hard-working families are idealised by politicians. Friends pitch each other business ideas. Tech companies persuade their employees that round-the-clock work is play. Gig economy companies claim that round-the-clock work is freedom. Workers commute further, strike less, retire later. Digital technology lets work invade leisure.

In all these mutually reinforcing ways, work increasingly forms our routines and psyches, and squeezes out other influences. As Joanna Biggs put it in her quietly disturbing 2015 book All Day Long: A Portrait of Britain at Work, Work is how we give our lives meaning when religion, party politics and community fall away.

And yet work is not working, for ever more people, in ever more ways. We resist acknowledging these as more than isolated problems such is works centrality to our belief systems but the evidence of its failures is all around us.

As a source of subsistence, let alone prosperity, work is now insufficient for whole social classes. In the UK, almost two-thirds of those in poverty around 8 million people are in working households. In the US, the average wage has stagnated for half a century.

As a source of social mobility and self-worth, work increasingly fails even the most educated people supposedly the systems winners. In 2017, half of recent UK graduates were officially classified as working in a non-graduate role. In the US, belief in work is crumbling among people in their 20s and 30s, says Benjamin Hunnicutt, a leading historian of work. They are not looking to their job for satisfaction or social advancement. (You can sense this every time a graduate with a faraway look makes you a latte.)

Work is increasingly precarious: more zero-hours or short-term contracts; more self-employed people with erratic incomes; more corporate restructurings for those still with actual jobs. As a source of sustainable consumer booms and mass home-ownership for much of the 20th century, the main successes of mainstream western economic policy work is discredited daily by our ongoing debt and housing crises. For many people, not just the very wealthy, work has become less important financially than inheriting money or owning a home.

Whether you look at a screen all day, or sell other underpaid people goods they cant afford, more and more work feels pointless or even socially damaging what the American anthropologist David Graeber called bullshit jobs in a famous 2013 article. Among others, Graeber condemned private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers telemarketers, bailiffs, and the ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone is spending so much of their time working.

The argument seemed subjective and crude, but economic data increasingly supports it. The growth of productivity, or the value of what is produced per hour worked, is slowing across the rich world despite the constant measurement of employee performance and intensification of work routines that makes more and more jobs barely tolerable.

Unsurprisingly, work is increasingly regarded as bad for your health: Stress an overwhelming to-do list [and] long hours sitting at a desk, the Cass Business School professor Peter Fleming notes in his new book, The Death of Homo Economicus, are beginning to be seen by medical authorities as akin to smoking.

Work is badly distributed. People have too much, or too little, or both in the same month. And away from our unpredictable, all-consuming workplaces, vital human activities are increasingly neglected. Workers lack the time or energy to raise children attentively, or to look after elderly relations. The crisis of work is also a crisis of home, declared the social theorists Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek in a paper last year. This neglect will only get worse as the population grows and ages.

And finally, beyond all these dysfunctions, loom the most-discussed, most existential threats to work as we know it: automation, and the state of the environment. Some recent estimates suggest that between a third and a half of all jobs could be taken over by artificial intelligence in the next two decades. Other forecasters doubt whether work can be sustained in its current, toxic form on a warming planet.

Like an empire that has expanded too far, work may be both more powerful and more vulnerable than ever before. We know works multiplying problems intimately, but it feels impossible to solve them all. Is it time to start thinking of an alternative?

Our culture of work strains to cover its flaws by claiming to be unavoidable and natural. Mankind is hardwired to work, as the Conservative MP Nick Boles puts it in a new book, Square Deal. It is an argument most of us have long internalised.

But not quite all. The idea of a world freed from work, wholly or in part, has been intermittently expressed and mocked and suppressed for as long as modern capitalism has existed. Repeatedly, the promise of less work has been prominent in visions of the future. In 1845, Karl Marx wrote that in a communist society workers would be freed from the monotony of a single draining job to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner. In 1884, the socialist William Morris proposed that in beautiful factories of the future, surrounded by gardens for relaxation, employees should work only four hours a day.

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by the early 21st century, advances in technology would lead to an age of leisure and abundance, in which people might work 15 hours a week. In 1980, as robots began to depopulate factories, the French social and economic theorist Andr Gorz declared: The abolition of work is a process already underway The manner in which [it] is to be managed constitutes the central political issue of the coming decades.

Since the early 2010s, as the crisis of work has become increasingly unavoidable in the US and the UK, these heretical ideas have been rediscovered and developed further. Brief polemics such as Graebers bullshit jobs have been followed by more nuanced books, creating a rapidly growing literature that critiques work as an ideology sometimes labelling it workism and explores what could take its place. A new anti-work movement has taken shape.

Illustration: Nathalie Lees for the Guardian

Graeber, Hester, Srnicek, Hunnicutt, Fleming and others are members of a loose, transatlantic network of thinkers who advocate a profoundly different future for western economies and societies, and also for poorer countries, where the crises of work and the threat to it from robots and climate change are, they argue, even greater. They call this future post-work.

For some of these writers, this future must include a universal basic income (UBI) currently post-works most high-profile and controversial idea paid by the state to every working-age person, so that they can survive when the great automation comes. For others, the debate about the affordability and morality of a UBI is a distraction from even bigger issues.

Post-work may be a rather grey and academic-sounding phrase, but it offers enormous, alluring promises: that life with much less work, or no work at all, would be calmer, more equal, more communal, more pleasurable, more thoughtful, more politically engaged, more fulfilled in short, that much of human experience would be transformed.

To many people, this will probably sound outlandish, foolishly optimistic and quite possibly immoral. But the post-workists insist they are the realists now. Either automation or the environment, or both, will force the way society thinks about work to change, says David Frayne, a radical young Welsh academic whose 2015 book The Refusal of Work is one of the most persuasive post-work volumes. So are we the utopians? Or are the utopians the people who think work is going to carry on as it is?

One of post-works best arguments is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the work ideology is neither natural nor very old. Work as we know it is a recent construct, says Hunnicutt. Like most historians, he identifies the main building blocks of our work culture as 16th-century Protestantism, which saw effortful labour as leading to a good afterlife; 19th-century industrial capitalism, which required disciplined workers and driven entrepreneurs; and the 20th-century desires for consumer goods and self-fulfillment.

The emergence of the modern work ethic from this chain of phenomena was an accident of history, Hunnicutt says. Before then, All cultures thought of work as a means to an end, not an end in itself. From urban ancient Greece to agrarian societies, work was either something to be outsourced to others often slaves or something to be done as quickly as possible so that the rest of life could happen.

Even once the new work ethic was established, working patterns continued to shift and be challenged. Between 1800 and 1900, the average working week in the west shrank from about 80 hours to about 60 hours. From 1900 to the 1970s, it shrank steadily further: to roughly 40 hours in the US and the UK. Trade union pressure, technological change, enlightened employers, and government legislation all progressively eroded the dominance of work.

Sometimes, economic shocks accelerated the process. In Britain in 1974, Edward Heaths Conservative government, faced with a chronic energy shortage caused by an international oil crisis and a miners strike, imposed a national three-day working week. For the two months it lasted, peoples non-work lives expanded. Golf courses were busier, and fishing-tackle shops reported large sales increases. Audiences trebled for late-night BBC radio DJs such as John Peel. Some men did more housework: the Colchester Evening Gazette interviewed a young married printer who had taken over the hoovering. Even the Daily Mail loosened up, with one columnist suggesting that parents experiment more in their sex lives while the children are doing a five-day week at school.

Piccadilly Square in London during the three-day week of 1974. Photograph: PA Archive

The economic consequences were mixed. Most peoples earnings fell. Working days became longer. Yet a national survey of companies for the government by the management consultants Inbucon-AIC found that productivity improved by about 5%: a huge increase by Britains usual sluggish standards. Thinking was stimulated inside Whitehall and some companies, the consultants noted, on the possibility of arranging a permanent four-day week.

Nothing came of it. But during the 60s and 70s, ideas about redefining work, or escaping it altogether, were commonplace in Europe and the US: from corporate retreats to the counterculture to academia, where a new discipline was established: leisure studies, the study of recreations such as sport and travel.

In 1979, Bernard Lefkowitz, then a well-known American journalist, published Breaktime: Living Without Work in a Nine to Five World, a book based on interviews with 100 people who had given up their jobs. He found a former architect who tinkered with houseboats and bartered; an ex-reporter who canned his own tomatoes and listened to a lot of opera; and a former cleaner who enjoyed lie-ins and a sundeck overlooking the Pacific. Many of the interviewees were living in California, and despite moments of drift and doubt, they reported new feelings of wholeness and openness to experience.

By the end of the 70s, it was possible to believe that the relatively recent supremacy of work might be coming to an end in the more comfortable parts of the west. Labour-saving computer technologies were becoming widely available for the first time. Frequent strikes provided highly public examples of work routines being interrupted and challenged. And crucially, wages were high enough, for most people, to make working less a practical possibility.

Instead, the work ideology was reimposed. During the 80s, the aggressively pro-business governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan strengthened the power of employers, and used welfare cuts and moralistic rhetoric to create a much harsher environment for people without jobs. David Graeber, who is an anarchist as well as an anthropologist, argues that these policies were motivated by a desire for social control. After the political turbulence of the 60s and 70s, he says, Conservatives freaked out at the prospect of everyone becoming hippies and abandoning work. They thought: What will become of the social order?

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but Hunnicutt, who has studied the ebb and flow of work in the west for almost 50 years, says Graeber has a point: I do think there is a fear of freedom a fear among the powerful that people might find something better to do than create profits for capitalism.

During the 90s and 00s, the counter-revolution in favour of work was consolidated by centre-left politicians. In Britain under Tony Blairs government, the political and cultural status of work reached a zenith. Unemployment was lower than it had been for decades. More women than ever were working. Wages for most people were rising. New Labours minimum wage and working tax credits lifted and subsidised the earnings of the low-paid. Poverty fell steadily. The chancellor Gordon Brown, one of the countrys most famous workaholics, appeared to have found a formula that linked work to social justice.

A large part of the left has always organised itself around work. Union activists have fought to preserve it, by opposing redundancies, and sometimes to extend it, by securing overtime agreements. With the Labour party, the clue is in the name, says Chuka Umunna, the centre-left Labour MP and former shadow business secretary, who has become a prominent critic of post-work thinking as it has spread beyond academia. The New Labour governments were also responding, Umunna says, to the failure of their Conservative predecessors to actually live up to their pro-work rhetoric: There had been such high levels of unemployment under the Tories, our focus was always going to be pro-job.

In this earnest, purposeful context, the anti-work tradition, when it was remembered at all, could seem a bit decadent. One of its few remaining British manifestations was the Idler magazine, which was set up in 1993 and acquired a cult status beyond its modest circulation. In its elegantly retro pages, often rather posh men wrote about the pleasures of laziness while on the side busily producing books and newspaper articles, and running a creative consultancy with corporate clients, Idle Industries. By the early 21st century, the work culture seemed inescapable.

The work culture has many more critics now. In the US, sharp recent books such as Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Dont Talk About It) by the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, and No More Work: Why Full Employment Is a Bad Idea by the historian James Livingston, have challenged the dictatorial powers and assumptions of modern employers; and also the deeply embedded American notion that the solution to any problem is working harder.

In the UK, even professionally optimistic business journals have begun to register the extent of works crises. In his 2016 book The Wealth of Humans: Work and its Absence in the 21st Century, the Economist columnist Ryan Avent predicted that automation would lead to a period of wrenching political change before a broadly acceptable social system emerges.

Post-work ideas are also circulating in party politics. Last April, the Green party proposed that weekends be lengthened to three days. In 2016, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour was developing a proposal for a UBI in the UK. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told his party conference last September that automation can be the gateway for a new settlement between work and leisure a springboard for expanded creativity and culture.

It felt like a watershed moment, says Will Stronge, head of Autonomy, a British thinktank set up last year to explore the crisis of work and find ways out of it. Were in contact with Labour, and were going to meet the Greens soon. Like most British post-workists, he is leftwing in his politics, part of the new milieu of ambitious young activist intellectuals that has grown up around Corbyns leadership. We havent talked to people on the right, Stronge admits. No ones got in contact with us.

Yet post-work has the potential to appeal to conservatives. Some post-workists think work should not be abolished but redistributed, so that every adult labours for roughly the same satisfying but not exhausting number of hours. We could say to people on the right: You think work is good for people. So everyone should have this good thing, says James Smith, a post-workist whose day job is lecturing in 18th-century English literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. Working less also ought to be attractive to conservatives who value the family.

Outside the insular, intense working cultures of Britain and the US, the reduction of work has long been a mainstream notion. In France in 2000, Lionel Jospins leftwing coalition government introduced a maximum 35-hour week for all employees, partly to reduce unemployment and promote gender equality, under the slogan, Work less live more. The law was not absolute (some overtime was permitted) and has been weakened since, but many employers have opted to keep a 35-hour week. In Germany, the largest trade union, IG Metall, which represents electrical and metal workers, is campaigning for shift workers and people caring for children or other relatives to have the option of a 28-hour week.

Even in Britain and the US, the vogues for downshifting and work-life balance during the 90s and 00s represented an admission that the intensification of work was damaging our lives. But these were solutions for individuals, and often wealthy individuals the rock star Alex James attracted huge media attention for becoming a cheesemaker in the Cotswolds rather than society as a whole. And these were solutions intended to bring minimal disruption to a free-market economy that was still relatively popular and functional. We are not in that world any more.

And yet the difficulty of shedding the burdens and satisfactions of work is obvious when you meet the post-workists. Explorers of a huge economic and social territory that has been neglected for decades like Keynes and other thinkers who challenged the rule of work they alternate between confidence and doubt.

I love my job, Helen Hester, a professor of media and communication at the University of West London, told me. Theres no boundary between my time off and on. Im always doing admin, or marking, or writing something. Im working the equivalent of two jobs. Later in our interview, which took place in a cafe, among other customers working on laptops a ubiquitous modern example of leisures colonisation by work she said knowingly but wearily: Post-work is a lot of work.

Yet the post-workists argue that it is precisely their work-saturated lives and their experience of the increasing precarity of white-collar employment that qualify them to demand a different world. Like many post-workists, Stronge has been employed for years on poorly paid, short-term academic contracts. Ive worked as a breakfast cook. Ive been a Dominos delivery driver, he told me. I once worked in an Indian restaurant while I was teaching. My students would come in to eat, and see me cooking, and say: Hi, is that you, Will? Unconsciously, thats why Autonomy came about.

James Smith was the only post-workist I met who had decided to do less work. I have one weekday off, and cram everything into the other days, he said, as we sat in his overstuffed office on the Royal Holloway campus outside London. I spend it with our one-and-a-half-year-old. Its a very small post-work gesture. But it was a strange sensation at first: almost like launching myself off the side of a swimming pool. It felt alien almost impossible to do, without the moral power of having a child to look after.

Photograph: Getty

Defenders of the work culture such as business leaders and mainstream politicians habitually question whether pent-up modern workers have the ability to enjoy, or even survive, the open vistas of time and freedom that post-work thinkers envisage for them. In 1989, two University of Chicago psychologists, Judith LeFevre and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, conducted a famous experiment that seemed to support this view. They recruited 78 people with manual, clerical and managerial jobs at local companies, and gave them electronic pagers. For a week, at frequent but random intervals, at work and at home, these employees were contacted and asked to fill in questionnaires about what they were doing and how they were feeling.

The experiment found that people reported many more positive feelings at work than in leisure. At work, they were regularly in a state the psychologists called flow enjoying the moment by using their knowledge and abilities to the full, while also learning new skills and increasing self-esteem. Away from work, flow rarely occurred. The employees mainly chose to watch TV, try to sleep, [and] in general vegetate, even though they [did] not enjoy doing these things. US workers, the psychologists concluded, had an inability to organise [their] psychic energy in unstructured free time.

To the post-workists, such findings are simply a sign of how unhealthy the work culture has become. Our ability to do anything else, only exercised in short bursts, is like a muscle that has atrophied. Leisure is a capacity, Frayne says.

Graeber argues that in a less labour-intensive society, our capacity for things other than work could be built up again. People will come up with stuff to do if you give them enough time. I lived in a village in Madagascar once. There was this intricate sociability. People would hang around in cafes, gossiping, having affairs, using magic. It was a very complex drama the kind that can only develop when you have enough time. They certainly werent bored!

In western countries too, he argues, the absence of work would produce a richer culture. The postwar years, when people worked less and it was easier to be on the dole, produced beat poetry, avant garde theatre, 50-minute drum solos, and all Britains great pop music art forms that take time to produce and consume.

The return of the drum solo may not be everyones idea of progress. But the possibilities of post-work, like all visions of the future, walk a difficult line between being too concrete and too airy. Stronge suggests a daily routine for post-work citizens that would include a provocative degree of state involvement: You get your UBI payment from the government. Then you get a form from your local council telling you about things going on in your area: a five-a-side football tournament, say, or community activism Big Society stuff, almost. Other scenarios he proposes may disappoint those who dream of non-stop leisure: Im under no illusion that paid work is going to disappear entirely. It just may not be directed by someone else. You take as long as you want, have a long lunch, spread the work though the day.

Town and city centres today are arranged for work and consumption works co-conspirator and very little else; this is one of the reasons a post-work world is so hard to imagine. Adapting office blocks and other workplaces for other purposes would be a huge task, which the post-workists have only just begun to think about. One common proposal is for a new type of public building, usually envisaged as a well-equipped combination of library, leisure centre and artists studios. It could have social and care spaces, equipment for programming, for making videos and music, record decks, says Stronge. It would be way beyond a community centre, which can be quite depressing.

This vision of state-supported but liberated and productive citizens owes a lot to Ivan Illich, the half-forgotten Austrian social critic who was a leftwing guru during the 70s. In his intoxicating 1973 book Tools for Conviviality, Illich attacked the serfdom created by industrial machinery, and demanded: Give people tools that guarantee their right to work with high, independent efficiency from power drills to mechanised pushcarts. Illich wanted the public to rediscover what he saw as the freedom of the medieval artisan, while also embracing the latest technology.

There is a strong artisan tendency in todays post-work movement. As Hester characterises it: Instead of having jobs, were going to do craft, to make our own clothes. Its quite an exclusionary vision: to do those things, you need to be able-bodied. She also detects a deeper conservative impulse: Its almost as if some people are saying: Since were going to challenge work, other things have to stay the same.

Instead, she would like the movement to think more radically about the nuclear home and family. Both have been so shaped by work, she argues, that a post-work society will redraw them. The disappearance of the paid job could finally bring about one of the oldest goals of feminism: that housework and raising children are no longer accorded a lower status. With people having more time, and probably less money, private life could also become more communal, she suggests, with families sharing kitchens, domestic appliances, and larger facilities. There have been examples of this before, she says, like Red Vienna in the early 20th century, when the [social democratic] city government built housing estates with communal laundries, workshops, and shared living spaces that were quite luxurious. Post-work is about the future, but it is also bursting with the pasts lost possibilities.

Now that work is so ubiquitous and dominant, will todays post-workists succeed where all their other predecessors did not? In Britain, possibly the sharpest outside judge of the movement is Frederick Harry Pitts, a lecturer in management at Bristol University. Pitts used to be a post-workist himself. He is young and leftwing, and before academia he worked in call centres: he knows how awful a lot of modern work is. Yet Pitts is suspicious of how closely the life post-workists envisage creative, collaborative, high-minded resembles the life they already live. There is little wonder the uptake for post-work thinking has been so strong among journalists and academics, as well as artists and creatives, he wrote in a paper co-authored last year with Ana Dinerstein of Bath University, since for these groups the alternatives [to traditional work] require little adaptation.

Pitts also argues that post-works optimistic visions can be a way of avoiding questions about power in the world. A post-work society is meant to resolve conflicts between different economic interest groups thats part of its appeal, he told me. Tired of the never-ending task of making work better, some socialists have latched on to post-work, he argues, in the hope that exploitation can finally be ended by getting rid of work altogether. He says this is both defeatist and naive: Struggles between economic interest groups cant ever be entirely resolved.

Yet Pitts is much more positive about post-works less absolutist proposals, such as redistributing working hours more equally. There has to be a major change to work, he says. In that sense, these people want the right thing. Other critics of post-work are also less dismissive than they first sound. Despite being a Tory MP from the most pro-business wing of his party, Nick Boles accepts in his book that a future society may redefine work to include child-rearing and taking care of elderly relatives, and finally start valuing these contributions properly. Post-work is spreading feminist ideas to new places.

Hunnicutt, the historian of work, sees the US as more resistant than other countries to post-work ideas at least for now. When he wrote an article for the website Politico in 2014 arguing for shorter working hours, he was shocked by the reaction it provoked. It was a harsh experience, he says. There were personal attacks by email and telephone that I was some sort of communist and devil-worshipper. Yet he senses weakness behind such strenuous efforts to shut the work conversation down. The role of work has changed profoundly before. Its going to change again. Its probably already in the process of changing. The millennial generation know that the Prince Charming job, that will meet all your needs, has gone.

After meeting Pitts in Bristol, I went to a post-work event there organised by Autonomy. It was a bitter Monday evening, but liberal Bristol likes social experiments and the large city-centre room was almost full. There were students, professionals in their 30s, even a middle-aged farmer. They listened attentively for two hours while Frayne and two other panellists listed the oppressions of work and then hazily outlined what could replace it. When the audience finally asked questions, they all accepted the post-workists basic premises. An appetite for a society that treats work differently certainly exists. But it is not, so far, overwhelming: the evenings total attendance was less than 70.

And yet, as Frayne points out, in some ways, were already in a post-work society. But its a dystopic one. Office employees constantly interrupting their long days with online distractions; gig-economy workers whose labour plays no part in their sense of identity; and all the people in depressed, post-industrial places who have quietly given up trying to earn the spectre of post-work runs through the hard, shiny culture of modern work like hidden rust.

Last October, research by Sheffield Hallam University revealed that UK unemployment is three times higher than the official count of those claiming the dole, thanks to people who are either economically inactive no longer seeking work or receiving incapacity benefits. When Frayne is not talking and writing about post-work, or doing his latest temporary academic job, he sometimes makes a living collecting social data for the Welsh government in former mining towns. There is lots of worklessness, he says, but with no social policies to dignify it.

Creating a more benign post-work world will be more difficult now than it would have been in the 70s. In todays lower-wage economy, suggesting people do less work for less pay is a hard sell. As with free-market capitalism in general, the worse work gets, the harder it is to imagine actually escaping it, so enormous are the steps required.

But for those who think work will just carry on as it is, there is a warning from history. On 1 May 1979, one of the greatest champions of the modern work culture, Margaret Thatcher, made her final campaign speech before being elected prime minister. She reflected on the nature of change in politics and society. The heresies of one period, she said, always become the orthodoxies of the next. The end of work as we know it will seem unthinkable until it has happened.

Main illustration: Nathalie Lees

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Seal meat on a Toronto restaurants menu has stirred up a decades-long conflict over anti-hunting campaigns, which the Inuit say threaten their existence

A newly opened restaurant in Toronto sparked heated online debate recently by revealing that two dishes on its menu would contain seal meat. K-km Kitchen, an Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant, was targeted by an online petition which gained more than 6,300 signatures. The petition called for the restaurant to remove seal from its menu, stating that seal hunting is violent, horrific, traumatizing and unnecessary.

The controversy again highlighted the often uncomfortable relationship between animal rights and environmental groups and Indigenous communities who are struggling with profound issues of poverty and deprivation.

The work of such activist organisations is crucial in educating the general public through events such as todays World Vegan Day, and in encouraging government policies that promote a more sustainable future for the planet. But with change comes responsibility, something that Greenpeace recognised in 2014 when it openly apologised to the Inuit people of North America and Greenland for its role in causing them 40 years of grief, hardship and frustration.

This period has been dubbed The Great Depression by the Inuit, referring to the seal hunting ban in Europe and, more significantly, the associated drop in public approval of seal products.

While Greenpeace has now halted its anti-sealing campaigns, organisations including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are still running campaigns that Inuit communities say threaten their very existence.

In Toronto, the protest against K-km Kitchens seal-based dishes prompted a counter-petition by local artist Aylan Couchie, who claims the original petition was ill-informed and that seal products hold historical and cultural significance for Indigenous communities. Couchie contends that targeting a small Indigenous business when hundreds of other restaurants in Toronto use meat from inhumane sources is anti-Indigenous.

The crux of this latest controversy, however, is the meats source: SeaDNA, which provides the restaurant with its seal meat, is a company that takes part in the commercial seal hunt every year in Canada.

A vessel loaded with seal pelts during the 2009 commercial seal hunt in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada. Photograph: Stewart Cook/Ifaw/EPA

According to Joseph Shawana, head chef and owner of K-Km Kitchen: We did our due diligence when sourcing our meat. All hunters [at SeaDNA] go through rigorous training to ensure they hunt the seals as humanely as possible. And they only harvest what they need that is something intrinsic in our Indigenous culture. Only take what you need, not what you want.

Shawana says he is happy to discuss the issue with the protesters, telling them: Come visit me at the restaurant: Id love to answer any questions. In his view, the controversy stems from misinformation. The Inuit have never harvested white seal pups that is very frowned upon. Also, Canada has a huge, federally regulated seal industry. The seal hunt is not what it was like before, when the seal population was less than a million now its over seven million.

The commercial seal hunt has been a contentious subject between animal rights activists and Indigenous groups for decades. In the 1970s, Ifaw began to mobilise public opinion against the annual hunt of baby harp seals (known as whitecoats) off Canadas east coast. The organisations used photographs of helpless baby seals being clubbed to death by fishermen to create protest campaigns.

After immense public support, in 1983 the European Economic Community (ECC) banned the importing of seal skin and furs for two years. Public opinion against the seal hunt was so strong that demand for seal pelts and furs dropped dramatically all over the world.

As animal rights organisations celebrated the collapse of Canadas east-coast whitecoat sealing industry, the Inuit in northern Canada who do not hunt seal pups, only adult harp seals suffered from the collapse of the market for seal pelts. Despite a written exemption for Indigenous Inuit hunters, markets across the Arctic (both large-scale commercial and sustainable-use) crashed.

In 1983-85, when the ban went into effect, the average income of an Inuit seal hunter in Resolute Bay fell from Can$54,000 to $1,000. The government of the Northwest Territories estimated that nearly 18 out of 20 Inuit villages lost almost 60% of their communities income.

And life in these areas has not got any better since. The region is plagued with the highest unemployment rate in Canada, and the highest suicide rates in the world. A second seal ban, enforced by the European Union in 2010, only exacerbated these issues.

A harp seal pup or whitecoat on an ice floe. Photograph: Stewart Cook/Ifaw/EPA

Irena Knezevic, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa specialising in communication around food and health, believes that historically, campaigns by organisations such as Peta and Ifaw have gravely impacted Inuit communities:

I want to be really cautious by first saying this is not true of all vegan and environmental organisations, she says. But I do think organisations like Peta, Ifaw and Sea Shepherd have greatly profited from the shocking and spectacular images of seals being clubbed to death.

According to Knezevic: It is disingenuous to say the commercial hunt does not affect or impact the Indigenous hunt. It does, and if you look at it, less than 100,000 seals are killed in Canada each year while at the same time, two million minks are farmed and killed in Canada every year: 20 times as many, but we dont see much promotional material with minks by these organisations.

Ashley Byrne, campaign specialist at Peta, says the organisations stance has always been against the commercial seal hunt, not that of the Inuit:

We have always been very clear about the fact that our campaign is focused entirely on ending the commercial field slaughter only. [This] accounts for about 97% of seals killed in Canada, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Inuit subsistence hunt. The Canadian government has to hide behind the Inuit people in a dishonest attempt to justify the commercial slaughter, but theres two different things and our campaign is against the commercial hunt, says Byrne.

When asked what Petas response is to the Inuit community impacted by the campaigns, Byrne suggests public support for cruel products will fall and that alternatives should be explored by the Inuit and the Canadian government.

We have seen a lot of products fall out of favour as a result [of our campaigns], and you know that is progress. It wouldnt be right to drag this ethical progression back. With many of these other products that fall out favour, weve always advocated for job retraining, for people to be able to use their skills in industries that arent dying; [industries] that arent being propped up by tax dollar [subsidies].

According to the Inuit, however, moving into another industry is not only impossible, but offensive: for them, seal hunting holds great cultural significance.

Inuit vs activists: a decades-old conflict

Angry Inuk, a documentary made by filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, depicts the decades-old conflict between animal rights and environmental groups and the Inuit. Aaju Peter, an Inuit lawyer from Nunavut, is one of the activists featured in the documentary; she witnessed first-hand the devastation the seal bans caused her people.

We are trying to feed our communities. When our hunters catch seal they share it it is the most nutritious food our children and communities can eat. But because the hunter can no longer afford fuel and ammunition due to the collapse of the seal market, its really making it hard, Peter says. We are the most food insecure region in any developed country. Something needs to change.

An Inuit fisherman and his family have a seal meat barbeque. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

A report by the Conference Board of Canada found that Nunavut, a territory in northern Canada, was the countrys most food insecure region, with more than half of the Inuit population reporting moderate-to-severe food insecurity. According to the nonprofit organisation Feeding Nunavut, seven in every 10 preschoolers in the area live in food-insecure households, often going to sleep hungry and missing out on essential nutrition.

Although the Canadian government has tried to strengthen the sealing industry by giving tax subsidies to fishermen and enforcing strict quotas on the number of seals allowed to be harvested in a season, vegan and animal rights organisations are not backing down on their fight against the seal hunt.

Tanya Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer from northern Canada. In 2014, she received death threats from animal rights activists after she posted a picture of her infant daughter next to a dead seal for the Sealfie campaign. The same year, after she received the prestigious Polaris Music Prize, she shouted Fuck Peta during her acceptance speech in a show of support for the seal hunt. Peta responded with a statement saying she was ill-informed and should read more.

I was born and raised [in Nunavut] and I know how the system works, how people harvest meat and how they process it, Tagaq says. The world is burning up for a reason, because people have totally forgotten how to respect the earth, the land, ourselves and each other. The idea some people cant comprehend is that we [Inuit] might have the key to how to respect animals and how to respect the land. Were all on the same side here.

Tagaq says she feels compassion for animal rights activists, because most of them are not aware about the truth behind the seal hunt and other Indigenous practices. They need to know we have the right to live off of our natural resources, without someone telling us what we are allowed to sell. Seals are our cows, they are our beef and leather, yet cattle markets havent crashed due to public opinion and animal rights opposition.

She adds: We have the right to hunt. We have the right to use renewable resources to feed our families. We have the right to survive.

As for K-Km Kitchen, its owner Shawana has no plans to change his restaurants menu: I am paying homage to our northern brothers and sisters, he says. I will continue to sell seal meat.

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Both are to make their first appearances in India at the Global Citizen festival this month, alongside local heroes Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan

Jay Z and Coldplay are to share the bill when both play their first ever show in India. The two acts are to appear in Mumbai on 19 November, and the inaugural Indian leg of the Global Citizen festival.

Global Citizen, which is intended to encourage social awareness and activism, has taken place in New York annually since 2012, with Chris Martin as creative director. Both acts have previously played the New York event Jay Z in 2014 and Coldplay in 2015. The festival is free for people who perform various charitable acts.

The Mumbai event hopes to raise money for orphaned children and provide funding for 25 childrens homes in India, via the crowdfunding site Ketto, as well as help fund education programmes in association with the non-profit organisation Miracle Foundation.

Our festival combines music with social causes that have an impact and Miracle Foundation has had a huge impact on vulnerable children, said Global Citizen Indias spokesperson Arnav Sahni. Fuelled by Kettos remarkable crowdfunding platform, we hope to raise money and awareness so the Miracle Foundation can continue to do their inspirational work.

To earn the 30 points necessary to qualify for the draw to win two free tickets, fans have to undertake a variety of mainly online tasks they can reach the target by tweeting their support for a variety of causes.

As well as Coldplay and Jay Z, Demi Lovato will be appearing at the Mumbai festival, along with a score of leading Indian artists and celebrities, including composer AR Rahman, film star Amitabh Bachchan and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

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When Betty Nyaghoa launched Gatoto in a Nairobi shantytown, there were 400 children in a single room. Now it produces engineers, doctors and lecturers

Betty Nyaghoa sees something of herself when she looks at pupils in her charge at Gatoto primary school in the heart of one of Nairobis grittiest shantytowns.

Like many of the children, she grew up in poverty, the youngest of 10 siblings, born to peasant farmer parents whose struggle to pay school fees left her in constant danger of being kicked out.

Now she runs the Gatoto (small child in Kiswahili slang) school in the Mukuru kwa Reuben slums in eastern Nairobi. The school was started by local people in 1994 when they saw the state was not going to provide all local children with an education.

The elders felt something needed to be done to secure the future of the children who were not going to school and were spending their days collecting scrap metal for sale to the industries near this area, says Nyaghoa.

Gatoto started with 370 pupils but now has 1,030 on the roll and is the soul of the community.

Before joining the school as its inaugural head, Nyaghoa had been running a thriving business selling maize and beans. She had been a teacher earlier in life, but was made redundant by the government. I was passionate about education from a young age. I really admired teachers. The way they spoke, the way they dressed, I liked everything about them.

When she returned to teaching, she took a significant pay cut, with a starting salary at Gatoto of $10 a month. She found the going very tough in the first few years.

The school was ranked last in a divisional exam sat across the largest district in eastern Nairobi and, during an end-of-year meeting of headteachers, she was asked to explain Gatotos miserable performance.

Betty Nyaghoa in her office at Gatoto school. Photograph: Murithi Mutiga

I was tongue-tied, perhaps due to my lack of experience. I just asked the head of education in the area to come to the school and witness for himself the conditions in which we were working.

The education chief joined the tour and was shocked by what he found almost 400 pupils were crammed into a single church building. Classes occupied different corners , with teachers competing with noise from the other five classes. There were no desks: students sat on benches in rows and wrote notes on their laps so they didnt take up too much space. He could not believe his eyes, she says.

The education chief prevailed on the city government authorities to allocate Gatoto a bigger parcel of land, although the community still had to pool resources to build rudimentary classrooms from iron sheets and timber.

The most devastating problem Nyaghoa faced, though, was at home. Her husband, also a teacher, felt threatened by her status as headteacher and became violent towards her. Sometimes I would turn up with a swollen eye and explain to the kids that I banged my face on a door and one of them would say, teacher, my mum was beaten by my dad and her eye was swollen just like that.

She says: I wanted my children to grow up in a stable, two-parent family. But I also wanted dignity. I chose to walk away. I lost my marriage but I have been able to give much more to the community.

Thanks to donors and volunteers from Irelands SUAS educational development programme, which has supported the institution since 2004, Gatoto also offers needs-based scholarships to about 150 of its former students in high school and runs a feeding programme for 60 families affected by HIV.

The school places great stock in extracurricular activities and its choir has won multiple awards at national music festivals.

Like a proud mother, Nyaghoa reels off the names of the pupils who have gone from the slum to successful careers, including a biochemical engineer, a lecturer, a manager at Kenyas capital markets authority, and a recent student now studying to be a doctor. Regular talks by alumni are arranged to encourage the students.

Several of the schools 26 teachers are former pupils. This school was a home away from home for us as children, says one of the teachers, Geoffrey Kweya, 25. It was everything. We could escape our problems to come and find peace here.

Gatoto changed my life, says another teacher, Esther Oywaya. Some of our parents could not even afford the $2 fee for food or uniform per term but we were taken in anyway. We just encourage the pupils that they can achieve anything they want despite their circumstances here.

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The imprisonment of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi for helping to vandalise shrines in Timbuktu marks a key moment for justice and reflects the wider value of culture

In a world scarred by recurrent violence against people and their heritage, the nine-year prison sentence handed down to Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, who helped to destroy shrines in Timbuktu, marks a new and welcome recognition that deliberate cultural destruction is a war crime.

Posterity will remember 27 September 2016, the date of Mahdis conviction by the international criminal court, as the day impunity for the destruction of heritage finally came to an end and as a turning point for justice in Mali and beyond.

It is the first international trial to focus exclusively on crimes against historical and religious monuments. Fifteen long years after the blasting of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the ICC ruling on the destruction of the mausoleums of Timbuktu passed with the world still reeling over spectacular acts of devastation in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. Yet the verdict reinforces previous judgments against Balkan warlords by the UNs international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which treated crimes against heritage, notably in Dubrovnik, as part of broader charges involving murder and theft.

The outcome of Mahdis trial is an important contribution towards a comprehensive response to violent extremism, and a strong statement on the role culture should play. The deliberate destruction of heritage has become a weapon of war, part of a broader strategy of cultural cleansing that includes murder and persecution of people in the short term, and the annihilation of identities and destruction of social fabric in the longer term.

Monuments are targeted, damaged or looted to fuel illicit trafficking and finance criminal activities. Schools and media are hijacked. Cultural practices, including music and dance, are banned. Intellectuals are silenced. The aim of this brutal strategy is to enslave minds and prohibit free thinking. Mahdi, head of a morality squad called Hesbah, was a linchpin of this heinous strategy.

This goes beyond Mali: humanity itself is targeted; we are all concerned. The war against extremism must therefore be fought also on the battlefield of culture, education and the media. No military arsenal is strong enough to defeat an ideology that fuels violence.

We must win the battle of ideas. How? By teaching about the history of religions. By fostering dialogue between cultures. By sharing the wealth of knowledge contained in the manuscripts of Timbuktu, which hold the promise of a new humanist renaissance that could change our understanding of Africa and of Islam, strengthening young peoples capacity to resist those who exploit ignorance and hatred.

This broader vision of security is gaining ground. In warfare, the destruction of heritage was long considered mere collateral damage. Increasingly, though, culture is recognised as a direct target, part of a strategy intent on disseminating fear and attracting global media coverage.

A still from footage of Islamist militants destroying an ancient shrine in Timbuktu. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The UN security council has acknowledged the link between culture and security, and the contribution of illicit trafficking to the financing of criminal activities. Member states are seizing dubious objects at their borders, strengthening cooperation among services. Armed forces in France, Italy, the US and Austria are training their soldiers and officers to protect heritage.

This is already the case in Mali, where peacekeepers are working with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Change is under way, to better connect the dots between the cultural, humanitarian and military concerns that are so deeply intertwined in current crises.

When I went to Timbuktu in 2012, immediately after the liberation of the city, I promised we would rebuild the mausoleums, and we did. I returned last year to celebrate the completion of this task with the local masons and the imam of the Djinguereber mosque. I saw the joy of people reclaiming their heritage, and I am more convinced than ever of the role of culture in healing the wounds of war, and as a building block of sustainable peace.

A decade ago, such opinions might have been considered dangerously naive. But when extremists pay so much attention to the harm communities suffer when heritage is destroyed, they show us how much power culture holds to heal and recover when it is preserved.

Let us act on this understanding and rise to the unprecedented challenges we face with stronger programmes and increased resources. We need far closer cooperation at the highest level on education to counter extremism, and far stronger commitment to protect heritage under attack.

While we are appalled by the loss of cultural heritage, we must take heart from the judgment of The Hague, which exhorts us to strengthen our resolve and take action to ensure justice prevails in Mali and across the world.

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