April 27, 2016

April 27, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Peace for South Sudan?

Warring factions in South Sudan stepped closer to a lasting peace than anytime in the past two and a half years on Tuesday afternoon, when a powerful rebel leader returned to the capital Juba to become vice president of a so-called “national unity government.”

However, many fear it will be close but no cigar, or just return the country to pre-war conditions that were far from tranquil – featuring frequent clashes between rival tribes and accusations that the government favored some groups and neglected others.

Beginning in December 2013 with accusations that then-Vice President Riek Machar was plotting a coup to unseat President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the civil war has killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced more than 2 million. As of Tuesday, though, Machar has rejoined the administration – as part of a peace deal signed eight months ago that called for a two-year provisional government including ministers and parliamentarians selected from both warring factions.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power called it “the best hope that South Sudan has had in a very long time.” However, Machar’s return is only the first step in setting up the provisional government and “a lot of issues are yet to be sorted out,” according to Juba University political scientist Jacob Chol.

South Sudan is strategically important for Washington not only for its oil assets – with reserves estimated as high as 4.5 billion barrels. The fighting there is also seen as linked to the war in neighboring Darfur, and some see its largely Christian population as a potential bulwark against the spread of militant Islam in southern Africa.

None of that makes establishing peace any easier, though.

Apart from figuring out the nuts and bolts of sharing power, the two rivals face huge challenges to reconcile bitter hatred between the Dinka and Nuer tribes – the country’s two largest ethnic groups. They and other groups were killing each other even before South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, and since the civil war began, both Dinka and Nuer troops are accused of using the gang rape and murder of civilians for ethnic cleansing.

That will make punishing some of the worst offenders essential. But as in past conflicts from Germany to Rwanda, many gruesome acts of violence will have to be forgiven, if not forgotten.

There are also huge logistical challenges. Along with ending the fighting – which has continued throughout the negotiations over Machar’s return – the provisional government will also have to find homes for millions of people, fix the devastated economy and integrate rebel and pro-government forces into a single national army.

The fact that rebel fighters lobbed grenades into a UN base where 100,000 civilians have taken shelter on the eve of the day Machar was to join the government does not inspire much confidence, and many doubt that Machar and Kiir can overcome their personal enmity.

Low oil prices could raise the degree of difficulty. The government, which relies on oil for virtually all its revenue, is already almost bankrupt. Inflation in Juba has topped 240 percent and millions of people are facing starvation. Moreover, the unity government will need to find cash somewhere to pay the soldiers – nationals and rebels – or they’re likely to return to fighting simply to survive.


WANT TO KNOW

Spain Heads for Elections, Again

Political paralysis continues in Spain, as King Felipe VI was forced to acknowledge that none of the country’s parties have enough support to form a government and call for new elections in June.

The decision means the country will go to the ballot box only six months after the last national election on Dec. 20, which effectively ended a longstanding two-party system in which the center-right Partido Popular (PP) and center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) alternated in leading the country.

However, the latest polls suggest another election will likely only generate the same result: a strong minority for PP but not enough votes to form the government. Some say the Spanish government is decentralized enough that’s not the end of the world. But others argue that another round of polls could further slow the process of economic reform, which is needed even if Spain’s economy is growing at three times the pace of Italy’s.

Meanwhile, the stalemate can’t go on forever without creating chaos, and elections always cost money.


North Korea Plans Rare Party Congress

North Korea said Wednesday it will hold its first Workers’ Party Congress in 36 years beginning May 6, in what longtime observers say is a move by dictator Kim Jong Un to consolidate his hold on power and push forward plans to expand the hermit kingdom’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

South Korea believes another nuclear test is imminent.

The last such party congress was held in 1980, before Kim Jong Un was born. At this one, he’s expected to revamp his father’s policy of Songun, or “military first,” and formally adopt his own version called “byongjin.” The idea there is to push economic development and stockpile nuclear weapons at the same time.

If that weren’t scary enough, the US state department warned Tuesday that the US would consider “other options” – apart from economic sanctions that seem to have had little impact – if the North continued nuclear testing and ballistic missile launches.

That seems like a given.


Brazil’s Post-Impeachment Plans

Provided President Dilma Rousseff is suspended in mid-May, as expected, Brazil will replace the board of its central bank and adopt sweeping economic reforms to restore voter confidence, Reuters reports.

Vice President Michel Temer aims to push through unpopular tax, pension and labor reforms to help reboot the flagging economy – which has been devastated by the collapse of commodity prices associated with the slowdown in China.

Among the plan’s top line items: Oust central bankers who are “susceptible to political meddling,” slash pension benefits for workers, adopt reforms that make it easier to hire and fire workers and eliminate thousands of government jobs. 

With the country headed for its worst recession ever, following a commodities boom that saw trade with China soar from $2 billion in 2000 to $83 billion in 2013, those are the kinds of reforms that will please investors. But they could well make Temer even more unpopular that Rousseff with ordinary Brazilians.


DISCOVERIES

Traffic Lights, For the Sidewalk

Short of making walking-while-texting a criminal offense, there’s not much city planners can do to make pedestrians watch where they’re going. Leave it to the rule-obsessed Germans to come up with a solution.

In Augsburg, city officials have installed traffic lights in the sidewalk so pedestrians who are so intent on their screens that they’d otherwise blunder into the road know when to stop.

Sound crazy? Augsburg doesn’t think so. Citing figures that indicate 20 percent of pedestrians are too distracted by their smart phones for their own good, city spokeswoman Stephanie Lermen says the sidewalk traffic lights create “a whole new level of attention.”

Jammers that make your screen go red could well be next.


 

joverdorf
Wed, 04/27/2016 – 05:21