Mobile and Internet Technology: How the More Revolution is Improving the Quality of Life for Women and Girls in Afghanistan

 

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Afghan girls surf the internet to get more information on human rights especially for women.          Photo credit: Manezha Mohamed, Afghanistan

 

By Joan Lewa

From August 2014 to March 2015, I had the pleasure of working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Many thought I was insane to accept the short-term contract in such a war-torn country. Some even bid me a “see you in heaven” goodbye since I was sending myself to the gallows. For me, I considered it an opportunity of a lifetime knowing I will be able to meet Afghan women, who I’d heard so much about, especially their determination in the fight for equality, voting rights, equal employment opportunities among other.

Afghanistan, a mountainous landlocked country located in South Asia, is famously known for the long-term unrest caused by war.  Worst is the way women are treated, confined to extremism in religion, negative social and economic elements. For decades, Afghan women have been second class citizens, not even allowed to vote in elections. They were married at 13 years and no option for divorce and no chance of inheriting anything. The women were never allowed to move around without an escort of a male.

Afghan women were not allowed to walk out without the company of a man or boy regardless of age. The boy is to report on their conversations or any acts that may be seen deviant according to the Sharia law.
Afghan women were not allowed to walk out without the company of a man or boy regardless of age. The boy is to report on their conversations or any acts that may be seen deviant according to the Sharia law. 

During my stay, and working as a development communications outreach for USAID gave me an opportunity have many site visits with the escort of the American marines.  Some of my duties were to move around and collect success stories and blogs which I would publish on website.  Over the period, I got to meet many women and girls. One thing was for sure – The More Revolution had indeed reached Afghanistan and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) especially the mobile phone and internet were favorably helping in the process of empowering women and girls.

The “More” in terms of donor funding is one positive aspect that contributed to Afghanistan’s rapid growth of ICT.  It happened at a time where millions of dollars from development partners was poured in the country from donors. It will be noted that many targeted the interests of women especially in changing the conservative attitudes towards women. The influx of (More) cheap smartphones from China which retail for as little as ten dollars was an important variable that contributed to the growth of ICT in Afghanistan. Of “more” noteworthy is the “youth bulge” that constituted of millions of young people of below thirty years. These youths, majority being women and girls, desired progress in their fight for human rights faster than the Afghan government could give.  They, in numerous numbers and equipped with the use of mobile phones and internet became difficult to control and with that power, they have managed to improve their livelihood.

Social media advances understanding of girls and women’s rights

One of the girls I had the opportunity to meet is Hamira Hamidi.  “I was afraid to join Facebook”, she explains.  I was afraid because this was a rare thing for women and girls in Afghanistan.  Since joining social media, Hamira now has over 1,500 Facebook friends and over 6000 Twitter followers. “When I learn of a woman who is not on Facebook, I say ‘how do you exist without Facebook?’”. Working as a consultant for women’s right campaigns, she is able to use social media to reach out to thousands of women and children, educating them of their rights. Hamira also set up the Afghan Women’s Network of Technology which has a coalition of more than 90 women groups.

Hamira also takes time to teach young girls on how to use social media tools and internet to access information.
Hamira also takes time to teach young girls on how to use social media tools and internet to access information.  Photo credit:  Samim Wafeq, Afghanistan

Mobile-money Transfer Deepens Financial Inclusion

Another impressive stride that mobile technology has given to the Afghan women is the use of mHawala (mobile money). Typically, women in Afghanistan are not allowed to work away from home. They have to be escorted by a male when leaving the house the only job they are allowed is that of tailoring, where they are confined to a room.  The mHawala mobile technology, a home-based business that allows transfer of cash, payment of bills and even a personal bank is changing women’s lives. I met Fardha Ahmed, who impressively defied the trend of women unemployment and became a mobile money agent for a telecommunications company. Fardha believes that by doing so, she is preparing a way for other women who are looking for jobs. She works from home and offers the mHawala services to neighbors, local business people and relatives. She earns seven percent per transaction, customer registrations and sale of pre-paid cards. “My dad refused that I work outside of my house” said Fardha, 23. “I discussed with father and managed to convince him and now I work from home, the money I get is also helping in paying for my sister’s education.”

Promoting Social Justice

Afghan women protesting the brutal murder of Farkhunda Malikzada. They all took to the streets after messages of demonstration went viral in the women’s network. Photo credit: Radio Liberty, Afghanistan

“We are able to post on social media women injustices taking place here,” says Farni Marwad 30. “Hard evidence helps us women get global attention, forcing judges to imprison men who they would have otherwise released.” Farni was a biter woman at the time of my interview with her. She narrated of the case of Farkhunda Malikzada, who had been murdered by in the streets. Killed with medieval cruelty, Malikzada had an argument with a mullah (a religions scholar), where he accused her of burning the Koran.  She was then beaten, thrown from the roof, ran over by a car, her body set on fire and later dumped in Kabul River, the police looked on. “Power was out that day so communication was impossible, she says.  “I saw it on Facebook, Hamidi had posted it and with all the women’s network, the clip went viral.” Farni smiles at this point because by morning millions of people around the world were condemning the action. The case eventually demonstrated Facebook in action among Afghanistan women. She believes that the judge could not release or give the accused a less conviction because all eyes were on him, especially with the hard evidence circulating on social media.

Reducing the unemployment gap for women

More girls and women Afghanistan are getting information through the internet and mobile applications.
More girls and women Afghanistan are getting information from the internet and mobile applications.  Photo credit: USAID/Afghanistan

Technology has also helped Ms. Manisha Roya become a role model for girls and women in Afghanistan, especially those who want to become future leaders. Roya, after graduating with a degree in computer science opened her own company where she sells software.  The company has 30 employees, 21 of whom are female. Roya represents one of the hundreds of Afghan women who have started companies encompassing the technology world. They believe that the way to peace and modernization in Afghanistan can be found in technology. They are audacious, braving Afghanistan’s cultural and religious norms are marching up with courage to front-run their own companies.

Promoting education 

It was good to learn, recently that the Education Ministry in Afghanistan introduced a new literacy application for mobile phones. Ustad Mobil (mobile teacher) will give traditional ways of learning a modern approach. The application will be providing information to both national languages and it also has modules in language and math. Though the Ustad may not end violence against female teachers and learners, it will most definitely make the education policy makers explore further on strategies that will make education accessible to women and girls who are sometimes not allowed to attend schools.

Women in adult education are able to access information and learning in their national languages – thanks to Ustad mobile.
Women in adult education are able to access information and learning in their national languages – thanks to Ustad mobile.  Photo credit: Getty Images

Conclusion

The More revolution should not be mistaken for just quantity but also about improvements in lives as in the case of Afghan women and girls. They are more informed, better educated and bold in educating fellow women of their rights. Thanks to the More revolution, to date, through technology, what had protected power against women is no longer working as the women are more connected with the world than before.

Fond memories of girls and women and how far they have come will always be dear to my heart.  Indeed, technology has contributed greatly in the strides they have made to overcome their social, economic, and religious and cultures to be who they are today and much more in future. Technology has helped them become a force in their country’s development.  They are participants and not stand-by second class participants and also leaders in a country where they were once dominated.  I am so proud to have been a part of this great time, to witness first-hand how technology, especially the internet and social media improved the quality of life for the women and girls of Afghanistan.

 

 

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WOMEN EMPOWERMENT CAN ALSO HAPPEN IN THE DIGITAL SPACE

Ngara highschool students were taught on how to browse safely in the internet by the shewill connect programIMG_3270
Equipping young girls and women with digital literacy skills is important for sustainable development. Photo Credit: Eric Onyiego

By Eric Onyiego

While there has been tremendous achievement in empowering women and girls across the globe, new innovative approaches are still needed to lift women out of extreme poverty. Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals advocates for promoting gender equality and women empowerment which is very critical to economic growth and sustainable development of nations. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda/goal-5.html

It’s not breaking news that women are grossly underpaid than men across the globe. The situation has improved over the years and women now make up to 41 percent of paid workers outside of agriculture, compared to 35 percent in 1990. Governments, the private sector, donor agencies continue to look for innovative new approaches to uplift lives of women and girls. One of the potential areas to look at is investing in technology to empower women and girls. Well, from the sound that one would be quick to point out a challenge in sustainability of such an approach. Current research conducted indicates that limited internet access and digital literacy is undermining the quest to achieve gender equality, preventing women from realizing their full potential. http://harvardkennedyschoolreview.com/the-digital-gender-gap-unleashing-the-value-of-the-internet-for-women-2/

Technology, or more specific the internet has transformed billions of people across planet earth since inception. Through internet a lot advancements have been realized in education, health, information, and communication just to mention a few thematic areas. There is ease of information and idea sharing across continents leading to global economic growth. Through internet businesses have been bred and grown, successful product campaigns have been held, innovative ideas have shared, and great minds have been nurtured.

Internet is thought of as a tool for equalization. Literally everyone should be able to access internet devoid of gender or socio-economic status. However, internet access is a challenge, with more men able to get access than women. According a UN report 200 million more men access the Internet than women worldwide. http://www.networkworld.com/article/2170200/lan-wan/un-report-highlights-massive-internet-gender-gap.html

Key among reasons why women do not access internet is poverty and gender inequality. Women lack information about technology and have therefore developed a sense of inferiority. Some feel that technology is a male arena and would rather settle for good old household chores. There are however great opportunities open to women if they get full access to internet.  The digital space provides a forum where women access vital information and beneficial networks online. Self-confidence is bound to improve in women accessing internet because they interact positively and share ideas in the various digital platforms exposed to them. Business can be created online, Jobs can be secured online and women can participate in online campaigns geared to social change.

women and the web
Bridging the gender gap in internet access. Courtesy of the Women and Web Report

According to the women and web report commissioned by technology giant Intel if more women receive digital literacy skills and are able to access the internet the annual Gross Domestic Product(GDP) across 144 developing countries would increase by $13 billion to $18 billion. That is remarkable growth to economies that can be achievable if 600 million more women get internet access. This why international development agencies like the United Nations and USAID have partnered with technology company Intel corporation to enable young women and girls in Kenya receive digital literacy training. Dubbed the She Will Connect campaign the platform helps equip women with internet skills to help them gain meaningful information and economic opportunities. Over the years Intel has been involved in designing innovative technological advancements that will improve livelihoods. In Kenya, the She Will Connect platform has already enrolled 2000 women who are receiving digital literacy skills. The program is crafted with relevant programs that improve learning through online peer networks. Women and girls also learn basic steps guiding safe browsing in the internet. Penny an upcoming gospel musician in Kenya is one of the beneficiaries of the program who has learnt how to effectively engage her fan base through Facebook.

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Technology can empower women through exposure to more opportunities. Photo Credit: Eric Onyiego

“I must admit that social media was very new to me. I barely used the internet because I didn’t see any benefit. Through Facebook my fan base has increased, I’ve met fellow upcoming musicians whom we interact frequently. I’ve also learnt to upload my music online for free saving me money,” said Penny. She is among women undergoing digital literacy training in Kenya. The program provides a safe online environment for women and girls to seek relevant beneficial information including education, health among others.

Mercy a high school student in Nairobi has learnt of a great online tool that breaks down complex reading material. “It’s exciting using internet for learning. I realized it’s not just for gaming. Our teacher also taught us how to browse safely online when seeking information,” she says.

Access to internet has also changed how we respond to issues. It has enabled communities across the globe learn each other’s challenges and triumphs. For instance, most issues affecting women are common globally. Through various digital platforms successful social campaigns have been held attracting millions of supporters across the world and this in turn has led to an informed world ready to fight for their rights.

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In Africa internet access still remains a challenge especially in areas experiencing extreme poverty. Lack of infrastructure and electricity also poses a challenge to internet access. This however hasn’t broken the spirit and enthusiasm in learning especially for women. Global companies like Facebook are investing to provide free internet in Africa especially in the rural areas. This will in turn increase the number of women accessing the digital space for socioeconomic benefits. Empowerment through technology has the potential of spurring economic growth in the world but stronger political commitments from governments and private sector partnerships are needed to address the gender gap in internet access.

Internet access has arguably reached a no turn back stage. One literally can’t do without, so while we are at it why don’t we use it constructively and advance the well-being and overall development of humanity.

Sources:

  1. Women’s Rights Online

  2. Doubling Digital Opportunities- Enhancing the Inclusion of Women and Girls in the Information Society
  3. Women and the Web- Intel

The right digital strategy for Africa in this “digital era”

By Brian Ogalle

A lady using a cellphone
A lady using a cellphone Credit: Wildfire Performance Marketing
A lady using a cellphone
Your regular PC user Credit:WALL-PIX.NET

Africa in history came to bear the pejorative term “The Dark Continent.” It is now over ten years past, since the term was coined. We are now in the era that has had a unanimous global acceptance as the digital age. So, what is Africa’s status, and place in this digital era? Looking back at the varied astute and missteps that Africa has taken to find its foothold, and a place at the table amongst the rest of the world in this epoch, what has been done right and should be augmented? And what needs to change? This piece of blog examines this.

To borrow and infer from pioneers and scholars (William Frederick) in the field of network theory; I find the evolutionary perspective of the network theory, as rather committedly put forward by William Frederick, an apt point to start from. In précis, William Frederick posited that the growth and coming about of this current networked (digitally) society structure was evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The digital societies that we have now, and the digitally propped livelihoods we undertake and engage in every day, has not been realized in a few years revolutionary push and shove of will. It is a result of bit by bit of digital innovation; that most especially had its inception, foundation and momentum from the western world. Notwithstanding, in similar vein, not to disregard the East and Far East countries.

The western world got ahead of the rest of the world in pinnacle events such as the great industrial revolution. With the complimentary nature of this industrial revolution system, digital technology was one of the facets, and in these western world societies, this digital systems had their formative years and in those environments, the system found definition and adoption. Africa having missed out on starting and keeping abreast here, Africa has had to play catchup.

Cable TV
Cable TV Credit: Expartistas.com
TV antenna
Television antenna Credit: Denny’s TV Antenna Source Outdoor TV Antennas

Why did the majority of television companies that started in Africa go “antenna” and not “cable” ?

Here in Africa we have tried several ways to get up to pace in being digitally at per with the rest of the world. One of the approaches that has been tried, is what in computing circles is known as, “copy-pasting.” This means copying something from one place, and as it is, apply it at another place. This approach has been tried by parties here in Africa who decided to adopt digital systems from the outside world, and just as done there, replicate it in Africa; and this went sour for those parties. An epitome here would be the comparison and contrast between the telecommunications companies, Safaricom and Airtel Kenya here in Kenya.

 

Safaricom
Safaricom Kenya Ltd Credit: Techmoran
Airtel
Airtel Kenya Credit: MicroEnsure

The battle for dominance of the Kenyan ICT sector between Safaricom and Airtel Kenya

Looking back to the years around 2002, Safaricom and Airtel Kenya (then Kencel) had equal dominance in their sector in the Kenyan market. Fast forward from then to now, and you will look for answers to what did Safaricom do right and Airtel do wrong. The answer to that lies at the crossroads point back in around 2002. Safaricom and then Kencel were operating in the Kenyan market in similar practice with industry in the western world. This was in billing customers per minute for phone calls service. However, Safaricom realized the business impedance to this practice, as the state of the economy here in Africa was not the same with that one in the western world. In so doing, Safaricom adopted per second billing of its customers for the phone calls service, whereas Kencel stuck to the “old” system, if just for a little longer. And now the market positions of Safaricom against Airtel answers who made the suitable decision early. The point here, the third world state of the economy in Africa does not facilitate for adoption of digital systems in similarity to adoption in the first world economies of the western world.

Windows 3.1
Windows 3.1x Credit: Wikimedia
Windows 10
Windows 10 Credit: Vox-CDN.com

How many people born and raised in Africa from around 1985 can say they have had a historical experience with Microsoft Windows? i.e they have experienced Windows 3.1 through the current Windows 10.

The other point to bring into retrospection is the platforms adopted in Africa for digital systems. The computer as a platform for digital systems and media, has its history, nurturing, upbringing and acceptance as a common household tool of productivity, in the western world. Even though the mobile phone was not invented in Africa, due to its price of affordability and a level extent of computing functionality, the mobile phone device is known as the “computer of Africa.” Once again the state of the economy playing a defining role. Over time we have seen the majority of businesses that had computer platforms as a core part of their business processes, have to incorporate or even do a complete overhaul in to the mobile side. This is because as this companies have to innovate to retain and gain new customers to survive in the market, this innovation has to be done in a platform that the market is in.

Mobile use stats
Mobile devices usage in Africa statistics Credit: WordPress
Mobile users in Africa
Mobile users in Africa Credit: Netdena-cdn.com

Mobile devices use and statistics in Africa.

Having set the mode for contemplation so far as retrospection has guided, here is the parting shot. Looking in the context of the digital sector in Africa, is Africa still the “dark continent?” This is open to varied viewpoints from the jingoists’ camp, to the pragmatics and other parties included, but it is not the key question under examination. The examination here is, how should the digital age be adopted in Africa in best practice? What we have already seen is that it is not by direct replication of what is happening in the world outside of Africa, or even adoption through popular platforms in the outside world.

Carnegie Mellon University enters Africa in Rwanda

Carnegie Mellon University from the USA has kind of pointed out the right direction in adoption of digital systems in Africa, as exhibited by one of its projects in Rwanda. Digital systems and media is a powerful modern tool for people to use to make their lives better. Supermarkets and malls employ till ladies and men and provide them with the till computers to make their business efficient. What Carnegie Mellon University has done in one of its projects in Rwanda, is provide operators of small local shops with affordable tablet devises and compatible barcode scanners, so these operators can be able to maintain sound inventory and keep tabs on revenues and cash flow in their business. The big supermarkets and malls can afford those expensive till computers and their constant electricity connection and billing. But for that sole proprietor out there in the village, those proprietors need this cheap, battery powered tablets and scanners to keep eyes on business cash flow, inventory and be efficient in business. And it is with this approach of modelling digital systems for Africa around the environment in Africa, which will help Africa keep abreast with the rest of the world in this digital context and era.

The surging power of social media and blogs in the digital era

By Karungari Kahende

The globe is now a connected marketplace that receives, shares and creates messages fit for a cause and with a particular audience in mind. With the advent of the social media platforms, the role of social media as a communication tool has been enhanced. It is now possible to reach different audience simply by creating conversation within the social media scope without having to go through the traditional media (advertisement). According to the dependency theory by Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin DeFleur (1976), the social media platforms have not necessarily brought about the increase in audience need. Instead, they have presented a variety of avenues to fulfill the audience’s’ needs. The real-time factor has transformed how companies communicate with their audience. Feedback is almost instant, and a company’s rate of response is crucial in retention of clients. The audience wants a quick and timely response to queries posed.

Strangers can quickly become friends due to increase in interaction among different networks. Briefly conversing with a stranger at a party could lead to the formation of a new network when they send you a Facebook request. By accepting the friend request, you will meet new people in the stranger’s Facebook friend list and more strangers. Social networking power is at play. We are connected by a series of friends and their networks. Your friend’s friend could be your friend too, and your friend wouldn’t necessarily need to introduce you. Again, the power of social networks!

 

network
http://www.socialnetworking.lovetoknow.com

 

The social network theory, formulated by Émile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tönnies, examines how people, groups and organizations interact with others within their network. Social scientists’ interests are in the interactions between each of the members of a network, rather than just the networks of close friends, family or workmates. They seek to establish why and how individuals interact as well as the level of connectedness between group members. The theory further explains how random people are connected. The marvel of social network theory is its ability to examine how social media content goes viral in relatively few steps, meaning a small change in one area can have a huge impact on the overall network. Change travels along the nodes and reaches out to the ties within the network and various connected relationships before being pushed out to other networks. This generates change throughout the entire social network. A network is a set of relationships.

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http://www.socialnetworking.lovetoknow.com

 

Presently, there are more people than ever before, and they move around more often. This makes it hard to control them, altering the distribution of power. This change is termed as the mobility revolution. As proposed by Naim Moises, the rise in Diasporas has altered business, religion, politics, education and even culture. Migrants bring with them their culture and perceptions, which alter our stands. Some become our spouses, work mates, and friends. International mobility increases interaction among people. This move affects voting patterns, business strategies as well as interaction patterns. The success of long-serving monopoly companies is being threatened by innovative start-ups, the youth are actively pursuing politics while citizen journalism is being led by charismatic citizens. Loosely organized activists are setting the public agenda for interaction with the masses using social media platforms. This all contributes to the decay of the former power held by structures and even police force. In this article, I will be highlighting two social media movers that have shaped online interaction. I intend to link them to the mobility revolution in the digital era.

Humans of New York

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http://www.humansofnewyork.com

Brandon Stanton, the bigwig behind this blog, focuses on stories of the human race. The project began in New York, 2010. The photographer desired to single-handedly create a photographic census of New York City. The dream soon grew and with it came a little over 12 million enthusiastic followers. Brandon has transcended New York and now travels to other nations taking photos and accompanying interviews to form stories. The photographer acts as a medium of interaction by posting stories shared by his subjects. Be it a life changing experience or a funny encounter one had, the photographer captures the subject in their most natural environment, along the busy city streets. Brandon has transformed social media interaction by acting as a medium for people to share real-life experiences to drive interaction and create awareness on issues too.

 

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http://www.humansofnewyork.com

Prisoners have had their cases reopened due to the mass support received from viewers of the blog who transform into activists. The masses are more empowered now than ever before, and so they act as agents of change. By voicing their opinion on a worldwide platform, the public is able to effect change, for example through online campaigns. Also, the mass audience is democratically empowered to voice their opinions without fear of government power. Humans of New York audience have been able to rally behind Brandon on his campaigns that have successfully been executed. The mass support received compels the policy makers to act, where necessary. This surpasses the power that was once concentrated on political leaders and the decision makers.

HumansofNewYork1
http://www.humansofnewyork.com

Muscle power has lost its essence as citizens are empowered more than before and worldwide mobilization has been made easier due to the significant internet users who are connected through networks. When injustice is being practiced, and you need to mobilize the public to enact change, all it takes is knowing the right opinion leaders within the internet sphere to share your story with. Brandon’s unique perspective in his storytelling is as a result of mobility revolution. Having traveled to several countries, the photographer has gained a wider perspective on life, which has contributed to his creative approaches to his work. He does not restrict his work to his native country but travels beyond, all in search of stories to share with the rest of the world. With this movement comes along experiences and improved skills as well.

Boniface Mwangi

Boniface-mwangi
http://www.bonifacemwangi.com

The Kenyan award winning photojournalist and a social-political activist is not a stranger to many. In fact, he is known to be more vocal on controversial issues than political leaders through his initiative, ‘Kenya Ni Kwetu.‘ His brave actions have hoarded him a significant Kenyan following both on his Facebook and Twitter pages. He is popular for his images during the post-election violence that hit Kenya in 2007–2008 and is also the founder ofPicha Mtaani’, a youth-led peace initiative that primarily seeks to create space for young people to reconcile and become agents of reconciliation to their respective communities. Boniface is an embodiment of courage as he is known to be vocal, speaking blatantly on the government’s failures and its leaders. Having been imprisoned severally due to his sharp remarks, Boniface is viewed as fearless both locally and internationally. People considered voiceless or insignificant to the media feed Boniface with news on issues within their communities which he, in turn, shares with his public acting as a medium for disseminating news and advocating for action. His posts are widely shared across the social media platforms channeling awareness across the masses and encouraging a call to action, most times in the form of a peaceful protest or response from the policy makers.

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http://www.bonifacemwangi.com

 

He is well-traveled, and so his perspective on things is seen as revolutionary. Reigning from a country once considered to be rigid in its customs and leadership, Boniface acts as a voice for change encouraging Kenyans to speak out against corruption and other injustices to drive the nation forward. This is attributed to the mobility revolution that has broadened his perspective on life thus allowing him to share his knowledge with the rest of Kenyans. There is a change in the distribution of power as it’s hard for policymakers to bar him from traveling to nations, detailing his experiences and exposing his country’s injustices. Moreover, his projects are all donor-supported by international organizations, which the government has little control over. With substantial funding, this social activist has power in his hands and mass support.