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Squid Game Has Hit the Playground: Should Kenyan Parents Be Worried?

4 min read.

Education authorities seem unaware that scenes from this gory Netflix series are being re-enacted in school playgrounds.



Squid Game Has Hit the Playground: Should Kenyan Parents Be Worried?

A few days ago, I learnt from our two daughters that children in their school are playing their own version of Squid Game in the playground.  A quick check with other parents confirmed that the same thing is happening in schools across Nairobi.

Squid Game is a South Korean survival drama television series on Netflix that revolves around a contest in which 456 players who are deeply in debt play a series of children’s games for the chance to win US$38 million in prize money, or to face death if they lose.

Schools and education authorities across Europe, the US and Australia are already issuing warnings to parents against allowing their children to watch the series. Most have gone on to ban re-enactments of the games in the series within the school.

The series, which has been streamed more than 111 million times since it debuted last month, is rated TV-MA (adult audience) by Netflix for language, violence, sex, nudity, suicide and smoking. Although the show has become hugely popular, the scale and level of violence is as deeply shocking as it is vivid, with players eliminated in the most gruesome ways.

A council in the south of England this week wrote to parents and guardians of school children warning of the dangers of “replicating games from the Squid Game programme” and urging parents not to allow children to watch the series. This was following reports that very young children are copying its violent challenges. Similar warnings have been issued by a school in Sydney, Australia, after reports emerged that children as young as six were mimicking Squid Game in the playground.

Early this month a school in Belgium reported that children had been caught playing versions of “1,2,3 Piano” and other games from the show. To mimic the show’s outcome – where contestants are killed after losing – children are also “beating up the loser”, the school said.

Red Light, Green Light 

A major factor behind Squid Game’s success as Netflix’s biggest show is the appeal of its twisted take on traditional children’s games which, though varying from country to country and continent to continent, are immediately recognisable to adults and children alike, and deeply resonate with them.

Take for instance the game of Red light, Green Light in Episode 1 of the series. This classic children’s game is a variation of “statues” where one person stands on one side of the field facing a group of players on the other. Facing away from the group, the lone player says something as fast or as slow as they wish, and then shouts “red light” as they turn to face the group. The group can only move when the lone player shouts “green light”, turns to face away and continues to repeat the phrase. If they are caught moving when the lone player turns to look at everyone and shouts “red light”, they are out. If the group of players reaches the other side without getting caught out, they win.

But there’s a horrible twist in the Squid Game version: losing a game means that you’ll be killed.

In Kenya, it is highly likely that these new games are yet to catch the attention of school authorities and there have been no reports in Africa’s media that Squid Games has entered school playgrounds on the continent. But it is clear that children are already playing these games at break-time as our daughters have confirmed.

A major factor behind Squid Game’s success as Netflix’s biggest show is the appeal of its twisted take on traditional children’s games.

Last week, Ikorodu Bois — a Nigerian online comedy group — published a video parodying the Squid Game version of Red Light, Green Light to much online applause. Triplets Ghetto Kids — a  Ugandan foundation for orphans and street children —  also posted a video showing some of their kids dancing to recreated scenes of the Red Light, Green Light game fused with African beats and dance moves. Masaka Kids Online – a group of young, multi-talented kids from Uganda released a song and dance video titled Green Light last week, a creative re-enactment of scenes from Squid Game, complete with the sounds and visuals of firing guns and dropping bodies.

Effects of such violence on children

The violence in the series has been described as dark and gory, yet it has become one of the most streamed shows ever, spreading through social networks such as TikTok and YouTube and reaching very young children. As the Conversation noted, 

The “Red Light, Green Light” scene has become one of Squid Game’s most widely shared moments: the giant animatronic doll that acts as a deadly motion sensor in this game has been heavily meme-ified. This doll often features in video thumbnails for Squid Game-related children’s YouTube content.

I spoke to Dr Claire Omolo, a clinical psychologist based at the Nairobi Mental Health Services, to find out what the effects are for children exposed to such violence, if parents should be concerned, and what they can do about it.

Experts on digital safety agree that it is quite difficult for parents to moderate what kids watch or access online. According to Dr Omolo, what is important is for parents to have conversations with their teenagers and young children in order to understand what they are watching and why (it could be just due to peer pressure or FOMO – fear of missing out), what the programme is about, what it is depicting, the level of violence, and the consequences of violence.

On the effects that watching such violence can have on children, Dr Omolo noted that children who watch violent programmes sleep less or not as peacefully as those not exposed, and that this lack of quality sleep can have an impact on their performance and on their interaction with their peers.

Research also shows that there is a correlation between watching violence and the display of more aggressive behaviour among children as they become less empathetic to the suffering of others.

While speaking on This Morning, a show on British TV network ITV, Psychologist Dr Nilufar Ahmed noted that parents could use the Squid Game phenomenon as a teachable moment for children who have already watched the series to learn about the other themes explored in the series: betrayal, friendship, capitalism, modern inequality, exploitation.

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Njeri Wangari is a poet, writer and communications specialist who frequently writes on Africa, technology, internet culture and the arts.


Words Are Politically Cheap, Actions Are Expensive: The Empty Rhetoric of Scholar Activism

The radical politics of the professional middle classes—too often found full of rhetoric, but short on action—are explored in Leo Zeilig’s new novel, The World Turned Upside Down.



Words Are Politically Cheap, Actions Are Expensive: The Empty Rhetoric of Scholar Activism

In writer and activist Leo Zeilig’s latest offering, The World Turned Upside Down, the richest one percent are wreaking havoc on both people and planet. Meanwhile, a social movement is out to stop them—one grizzly murder at a time. As the movement grows, it eventually engulfs the life of the story’s protagonist Bianca Ndour, a lesbian Senegalese professor raised in Nigeria and working in London. A thunderously irrepressible, unapologetic, and radical thinker, Bianca uses her public platform to speak out against the injustices inflicted on the many by the powerful few.

The result is a provocative and pulsating call to arms against capitalism’s grotesque excesses and inequalities, one centered around a violent revolutionary movement: the One Percent Murders.

Who is behind the murders? Can they be stopped? Should they be stopped? Bianca thinks not, and in her refusal to condemn the One Percent Murders, and her brazen, polemical style, her character drips with the spirit of political radical Frantz Fanon. When asked during a live television interview if she condones the murders, she fires back: “Do I approve of the violence? What violence? Whose? The violence that you have—both of you—spent wealthy years celebrating, writing nauseating books salivating over imperial tryanny and the never-ending murder spree of the rich … in their wars. How many died in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

As Fanon wrote in his most celebrated work, The Wretched of the Earth, “Decolonization reeks of red hot cannonballs and bloody knives. For the last can be first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists.” Bianca, too, sniffs the revolutionary potential behind the unfolding violence. “‘Rarely in history can you say this,’ she tells a small crowd, ‘but we are living through a moment of extraordinary reckoning. The rats, forced out of their lair, are panicking—watch where they run, get read for what they unleash on us’.”

Like Fanon, Bianca bursts with energy, ideology, and anger. “I had always believed in anger,” she tells us at one point. “Is this not the time for anger? It was the opposite of inertia, of academic pontificating—anger worked up action, and only through anger and action could justice ever come.” The emphasis on the centrality of action to revolutionary change and upheaval is a major motif of Zeilig’s work. His first novel centered around two generations of activists and the anti-war movement in the United Kingdom. His last novel, meanwhile, took its title—An Ounce of Practicefrom a Freidrich Engels quote that “an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory.”

Yet there is an intriguing sense that for all her anger-fueled political sermons, Bianca fails to enter the decisive arena of action herself.

There is a hint of activism in her youth, when we are told she attended a demonstration against South African apartheid as a teenager having just arrived in London from Zimbabwe. Her life as a university professor, however, is in many ways highly insular, absorbed by personal relationships, exercise, and the demands of her work. As she shuttles between international flights and university campuses, there is little to suggest that her actions extend beyond preaching at her pulpit and promoting her books at events. The only direct action we see her engage in throughout the entire novel is a cleaners’ strike on her London campus. Even here, she stumbles across the strike by chance and gives an impromptu speech calling for “the total expropriation of the capitalist class,” entirely abstracted from the specific demands and lived realities of the cleaners’ struggle.

There is a sense in all this that Bianca never really manages to escape her upbringing: she was raised in a wealthy, middle-class family on a Shell Oil compound in Nigeria. Her father was full of radical rhetoric but lived in comfort, ensconcing himself and his family from the harsher realities of Nigerian life that lay beyond the compound’s walls. While Bianca found some temporary escape from those walls during childhood—leaving them behind completely in adulthood—the stifling bureaucracy and demands of a professional career in the modern university appear to have walled her off from society once more, this time in a compound of her own making.

Here, Zeilig appears to be interrogating the class contradictions of scholar activism, and, more broadly, the hypocrisy of the professional middle classes. Even the most ideologically committed among them, like Bianca, are too often found full of rhetoric, but short on action.

It is likely that in passing this commentary, Zeilig is drawing at least in part on his own experiences, having lived in Senegal and South Africa, been active in a range of social movements and struggles, and written extensively on working-class struggle, the development of revolutionary movements, and some of Africa’s most important political thinkers and activists, including Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, and Frantz Fanon.

And again, there are echoes of Fanon here, in his argument that many of Africa’s early postcolonial intellectual leaders betrayed the aspirations of the working classes and popular masses, whose interests they claimed to represent and whose backs they had climbed upon in their ascent to power.

In one passage, we see Bianca run to work, shower at the office, and look out over the city of London, in perfect mimicry of the daily ritual of a wealthy city banker callously murdered in the novel’s opening pages at the hands of an unknown assailant. By drawing this parallel, Zeilig pushes us to ask whether, through her seeming inaction, Bianca—and the class she represents—is in fact complicit in the system she believes she is fighting against, no better than the wealthy one percent she so despises.

And yet all might not be as it seems. Those around her, including her students, protect her ferociously when required, and wherever Bianca travels, another murder is never far behind. It is a mark of the depth and complexity of The World Turned Upside Down that there are no clear or easy answers, only unsettling questions combined with a relentless exposé of capitalism’s ills and injustices. All of these questions are designed to jolt us out of complacency and comfort and into the one state that we all must occupy if a better world beyond capitalism is to be won: action. When, in the real world, even an establishment figure such as the current UK government’s chief scientific adviser is publicly pronouncing that “nothing short of transforming society will avert catastrophe,” we had better take notice.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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Misery and Magic Fuel Mayhem in Cafunfo

A new book from celebrated Angolan journalist and activist Rafael Marques reveals why a supposedly “peaceful protest” in a diamond-rich but dirt-poor north-eastern town, erupted into bloody violence and shocked the nation.



Angola: Myths and Realities About the Quality of Education

Amid public outrage, there were claims that the security forces had used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators – but the truth lay elsewhere. “Within a day of the news of terrible bloodshed during a protest march in the diamond-mining town of Cafunfo, some people had already drawn conclusions”, says Rafael Marques.  “It took me months of investigation to get to the truth.”

The undisputable facts were these:  when participants in a banned march clashed with security forces in Cafunfo on 30 January 30 2021, at least a dozen people were killed and many more were injured.  Two members of the security forces were lucky to survive a gruesome assault by multiple protestors wielding scythes and machetes.

Over nine months of meticulous inquiry, award-winning journalist and activist Rafael Marques gathered the evidence into a new book that reveals how traditional belief in magic was a major factor in mobilizing a vulnerable and illiterate group of people and inciting them to commit violence.

The author of several books and reports on this remote and troubled area, Marques made repeated visits and spent a total of 40 days on the ground collecting testimony from over 100 witnesses, including demonstrators and security force members, to determine what really happened.

The result of those months of painstaking inquiry is his new book Misery and Magic fuel Mayhem in Cafunfo.  It is a comprehensive account of what led to the unsanctioned demonstration and how the tragedy unfolded.

Sifting alternative versions of the ‘truth’

With meticulous attention to detail, Rafael Marques lays out the context behind the march. How decades of neglect and underdevelopment have led to hunger, poverty and desperation. How cynical local figures distorted regional history to make a flawed case for autonomy. How leaders of this banned separatist movement manipulated locals into believing the world was watching as they paraded their anguish. And how these same leaders organized two days of fasting with shamans conducting “magic” rituals to convince those on the march that they were immune from harm and could fly away.

Locals said more than 20 people were shot and killed – the authorities say it was six. Rafael Marques’s investigation found that at least 13 people were confirmed to have died while at least 16 were injured and six people remain unaccounted for.  However, he cautions that this is not a “definitive number” given the “highly confused situation” on the ground.

The contrasting accounts of eyewitnesses – both those who took part in the protest and members of the security forces – speak for themselves. Marques impartially and faithfully records their version of events as well as that of the authorities who claimed they came under unprovoked attack.

Diamonds and despair

Marques’s book was officially launched on 18 October in Cafunfo itself.  This place is an anomaly in Angola; not officially a town or municipality, the population has grown around the extensive (and often privately owned) diamond mining operations. Little or nothing of the wealth generated has gone into providing essential services such as electricity, paved roads, piped water or into establishing a local political administration.

Nine out of every 10 residents in Cafunfo live below the poverty line, barely able to muster a single meal per day.  The absence of any state presence other than security allowed third parties to radicalise these desperate locals who were induced to believe that they were legally allowed to stage a march to publicise their situation.

In fact, the demonstration was unauthorized and in contravention of emergency laws introduced to limit public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Little or nothing of the wealth generated has gone into providing essential services such as electricity, paved roads, piped water or into establishing a local political administration.

Previous encounters with police and military led some participants to arm themselves with agricultural tools “for self-defence”. Scythes and machetes were used in a gruesome attack on poorly armed security forces in different locations, leaving two men hacked to within an inch of their lives.

At a third location, security reinforcements faced with a front line of protestors maddened by hunger and the rituals that made them feel invincible, finally opened fire in what they said was self-defence.

As the evidence is laid out page by page, it becomes clear that a few politically ambitious, unscrupulous individuals took advantage of an illiterate populace with traditional animist beliefs in supernatural powers to mobilize and control large numbers of people into a cult-like membership of an illicit organization and incite them to violence.

After sifting through the disparate accounts, Marques was able to establish both a chronology of events and the astonishing role played by shamans and the use of botanical, or herbal, concoctions to create the conditions for a violent confrontation.

“The magic rituals were instrumental in mobilizing the masses, most of them uneducated peasants or field workers, into a tactical command group targeted against the constitutional and political authorities.”

“Some of those who took part felt they had extraordinary powers that enabled them to use violence to confront the security and defence forces [who were mobilized to prevent the unauthorised demonstration from taking place]”.

Marques’s conclusion was that “the demonstration was not a peaceful one, and the participants’ faith in their magic powers created the condition for violence.”

Over several days, a select group of men were forced to fast, consume and apply herbal preparations they were told would make them immune to harm, and after a sleepless night of dance, prayer, incantation and in some cases the consumption of alcohol, they were sent out, before sun-up, armed with long knives and wooden staves to confront a mainly unarmed group of police and border guards charged with preventing an illegal gathering.

“Many of them were fired up, believing they were untouchable. Many were famished, had not been allowed to sleep and were in a sort of religious fervour when they set out. They were repeatedly told there would be no retreat and they had to press on.  Imagine their mental state when they encountered impromptu and makeshift attempts to bar their advance. Even in the face of warning shots fired over their heads.”

The first casualty was a police inspector, brutally hacked about the head and body. The second was a demonstrator, allegedly struck by a bullet (or alternatively hit in the head by a companion’s machete). With little or no ammunition, the police and border guards kept retreating and the marchers kept pressing on towards the main police station and security forces’ residences.  An army colonel unarmed and with his hands up, pleading for them to stop, was attacked in a flurry of flashing machetes, and left for dead.

By the time the “frontline command” reached a third roadblock, this time manned by soldiers reinforcing the hapless police and border guard detachments which had already suffered two casualties, the scene was set for all-out combat. Some survivors still claim they only got away because magic allowed them to fly over the melee into safety.

In his book Marques enumerates all the factors that led to this tragedy.  “Ignorance, misery, negligence and political incompetence created a fertile ground for radicalization in Cafunfo, and in the face of government intransigence, other political forces seized the advantage.”

Rafael Marques has organized a round-table conference of all interested parties in the region to open channels of communication and has also made recommendations for government, mining interests and local communities to improve conditions on the ground and pave the way for self-sustaining economic development to lift this neglected community out of misery and prevent any future tragedies of this kind.

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Bees in Crisis: Toxic Insecticides a Threat to Food Security

As Kenya joins the rest of the world in marking World Food Day under the theme “Our actions are our future – Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life,” there is a need for a paradigm shift in dealing with the pesticide menace.



Bees in Crisis: Toxic Insecticides a Threat to Food Security
Photo: 冬城 on Unsplash

Bees play a critical role in food and nutrition security in Kenya through cross-pollination. They are also a source of income for farmers, through products such as honey, pollen, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly. However, bee colonies are under threat from an overuse of synthetic insecticides in Kenya. These insecticides are often fronted to farmers as a viable solution towards the control of pests affecting their crops. Statistics show that between 2016 and 2019,Kenya imported 12.9 million kgs of  insecticides, worth Ksh15. 8 Billion.

Insecticides as defined by National Pesticide Information Centre are a class of pesticides that are formulated to kill, harm, repel or mitigate one or more species of insects. They act on the pests by either disrupting the nervous system or their exoskeletons.

Oblivious of their impacts on the bees and environment, farmers are increasingly using these chemical compounds on their farms to control aphids, whiteflies, thrips, locusts, bollworms and cotton stainers. A closer look at the Pest Control Products Board Website shows insecticides such as Imidacloprid (78 products) and Deltamethrin (20 products) that are scientifically known to increase the mortality of bees are registered and used in Kenya.

Aside from farmers, the government of Kenya through the Ministry of Agriculture also employed the use of Deltamethrin in the control of desert locusts in  Menengai Nakuru region between March and April 2021. This was revealed by an environmental assessment done by Greenpeace Africa.

Of critical concern is that these insecticides have been scientifically proven to negatively impact honey bees (Apis mellifera). Earlier this year, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organization (KALRO) attributed the mass death of bees in Baringo to the excessive use of chemicals to control the fall armyworm. Similar to this was a 2015 study conducted in Transmara west sub county, that showed an increase in honey bee mortality and a decrease in honey yield in areas sprayed by pesticides.

Aside from the massive death of bees, Kenyan honey has also been reported to contain residues of toxic pesticides. Between September 2013 and August 2015, pesticide residues were detected in pollen and honey from honey bee hives across several regions in Kenya.

Those dealing with these dire ecological consequences of the widespread and continuous use of synthetic insecticides are smallholder beekeepers. For instance, following an aerial and ground spraying of synthetic insecticides in Samburu County in 2020, an intervention aimed at managing the swarms of desert locusts that invaded farms, there were complaints especially among beekeepers that their beekeeping enterprises were disrupted as bees fled their hives and others died from poisoning by the chemicals used. Lolmoti Ltkaruan, a beekeeper in Angata Nanyekie village, Samburu East was one of the farmers whose bee hives were affected by the aerial spraying.

Lolmoti, who is also a livestock keeper, had five hives from which he harvested honey worth KSh 4,000 from each hive, earning him KSh 20,000 per season. However, when the locusts hit, the Samburu county government in an effort to salvage crops and vegetation from the ravaging insects, used drones to conduct mass spraying of insecticides, which not only landed on the locusts but also the vegetation and the hives along with the bees inhabiting them. “Days after the spraying I noticed that four of my hives were deserted, all bees had fled; only one hive still had bees, and their numbers had significantly decreased,” says Lolmoti.

The father of seven had planned to use the money from his beekeeping enterprise to take his son who was clearing his primary education to secondary school. After the loss of his honey business, he still hadn’t figured out another source of income. This loss of livelihoods is coupled with the sad reality of Kenyan farmers being forced to pollinate their crops by hand as a result of the loss of bees.

Farmers need to be saved from this agony, by the Kenyan government and the relevant agencies such as Pest Control Products Board which are responsible for the registration and authorisation of these synthetic  insecticides.  As Kenya joins the rest of the world in marking World Food Day under the theme “Our actions are our future – Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life,” there is a need for a paradigm shift in dealing with the pesticide menace.

It is critical for the Kenyan government to engage institutions of research such as, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and other companies that are working to make available biofriendly pest control products and practices that will safeguard bees. Safe options such as biopesticides (insecticides and fungicides), push and pull technique, traps and protein baits will help protect bee populations, reduce pest infestation and increase food production.

For more information on bio friendly pest control inputs:

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