The World Today for September 28, 2016


A Tinderbox

Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo need to work faster.

The sprawling, mineral-rich Central African country was due to hold a vote in November to replace incumbent President Joseph Kabila.

Election officials, though, want to postpone the ballot. They say they won’t be able to draw up voter registration lists on time, the Associated Press reported.

Since the election requires voter lists, postponing it makes sense. Under a new constitution that took effect in 2006, Kabila is due to leave office in December. But he can keep his job until a new president assumes office, a Congolese high court has ruled.

There is one problem: Many citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) don’t like that idea. At least 49 people died this month during clashes between militias and government forces in the capital of Kinshasa after protests broke out over Kabila overstaying his welcome.

Reuters now describes the DRC as “a tinderbox of armed groups and ethnic militias.” That’s especially worrying given that for years, Congo was torn by civil wars that claimed millions of lives.

Kabila became president of the DRC in 2001, after the assassination of his father, the late President Laurent Kabila. His tenure has been bloody, and human rights groups are critical of his track record on freedom of the press and other civil liberties. But in 2003 Kabila brought an end to the civil wars. Still, these days, he’s been fighting groups backed by neighboring Uganda and Rwanda.

One of those groups is the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, a Ugandan-supported force that operates in the forests of northeastern Congo.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post discounted the ADF’s alleged connection to Al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals. Even so, the Post quoted others who believed the ADF was taking its orders from Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda affiliate that has conducted terror attacks in Kenya and Somalia.

As Kabila fights foreign forces who would seek to exploit the country’s weakness, he also now also holds the keys to the country’s stability.

Human Rights Watch Africa Director Daniel Bekele believes Kabila should draw inspiration from Cincinnatus, the Roman general who returned home after war rather than attempt to remain in power. If Kabila steps down peacefully, he would give Congo an important chance to enjoy a proper democratic transition of power.

“The decisions President Kabila and his government will make in the coming weeks can make all the difference for Congo’s future,” said Bekele. “This is a critical opportunity for the country to strengthen democracy, the rule of law and human rights for its own future and for the entire region.”

Even Pope Francis recently told Kabila to peacefully address the protesters’ concerns, step aside and let someone else take over.

Kabila appears ready to leave but happy to remain in power as the election workers toil. Hopefully the president won’t make a decision that makes their work irrelevant.


Blood and Water

India has been pushing back on its neighbor, Pakistan, after attacks this month at an Indian base in Kashmir killed 18 troops.

Earlier this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi threatened to crank up India’s use of water from the three rivers that flow through the nation northward to Pakistan: The Indus, Jhelum and Chenab.

“Blood and water cannot flow together,” warned Modi.

India could feasibly constrict water supply without violating the Indus Water Treaty, signed in 1960, which has managed to survive the conflict between the neighbors.

But increased rhetoric has created a rolling boil of new tensions.

Wednesday, India announced that it will boycott a summit of South Asian countries in Islamabad, its latest attempt at isolating Pakistan without resulting to arms, the Financial Times reported.

The Indian prime minister is also spearheading a meeting on Thursday to discuss the demotion of Pakistan’s status as a “favored nation,” a symbolic gesture with perhaps small economic impact, analysts told the newspaper.

Perhaps blood isn’t thicker than water after all.

Louder Than Words

Amnesty International canceled the public launch of a report criticizing Thailand’s military government at the last minute Wednesday after Thai officials warned that Amnesty representatives from abroad were violating the country’s labor laws.

Amnesty’s report accuses Thailand’s government – which seized power in 2014 in a bid to restore stability after months of civil unrest – of allowing a “culture of torture” to flourish since it assumed power.

The report details 74 alleged cases of torture and other types of ill treatment of suspected insurgents, government opponents and minorities by soldiers and police, including beatings and waterboarding, according to the BBC.

Amnesty called off its press conference releasing the report after officials warned that staff members could face arrest and prosecution for having the wrong visas.

The Thai government has denied the allegations of torture and defended its record on human rights since it assumed power.

But a director at Amnesty International said that while Thailand may claim to be tough on torture, “actions speak louder than words.”

‘Murky’ Relations

The UK may still be preoccupied with how it will pull off Brexit since it opted to leave the EU this summer but Europe has its sights on Britain for other matters.

The 28-country bloc focused Tuesday on the role of UK tax havens in facilitating financial crime as the European Parliament opened its 10-month inquiry into the Panama Papers scandal.

Parliament members called for the inquiry to focus on the role of British overseas territories – the British Virgin Islands are home to nearly half of the 214,000 companies and trusts implicated in the scandal – in tax evasion, embezzlement, and avoiding sanctions.

Among the witnesses European lawmakers are keen to summon as part of the inquiry is former Prime Minister David Cameron, whose father ran a Bahamas investment fund that avoided UK corporate taxes for decades, wrote the Guardian.

Brexit also weighed on some lawmakers’ minds who noted the “murky relationship” between the City of London and Britain’s overseas territories.

“I see a great risk with Britain leaving the European Union and thus becoming the biggest tax haven in the world,” said one parliamentarian.


Location, Location, Location

Humans aren’t the only species fighting over prime real estate. It’s now clear that bacteria and their mutations are aggressive house hunters, too.

Harvard-based scientist, Michael Bayem, is the creator of the MEGA-plate: The Microbial Evolution and Growth Arena plate. It’s a tool for visualizing and studying microbial evolution.

Bayem began MEGA as a side project to show large-scale microbial evolution, which could lead to widespread antibiotic-resistant bacteria by 2050.

But it had certainly never been presented so “beautifully,” the Atlantic reported (see it here).

A huge piece of plastic laid out across a lab floor is sectioned off into five distinct areas of increasing antibiotic potency, beginning with none on the peripheries of the plastic, and increasing to a potency 1,000 times stronger than the lowest dosage in the middle-most section.

“It’s like a game of bacterial whack-a-mole,” Baym said. Using various dyes, bleaches and light blockers, they filmed the gradual evolution of E. coli bacteria as they mutated and progressed through five differing layers of potentially fatal antibiotics.

At first, the bacteria only thrived in the area void of antibiotic. But gradually, a mutant appears and begins to thrive in the new, formerly inhabitable real estate, competing with other newly developed mutants for the most nutrient-rich properties available.

After about 11 days, the mutants make their way into the area with a 1,000-times concentration of antibiotic. And they actually thrive there.

“It matters very much where those mutations pop up,” Pamela Yeh from the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Atlantic.

If mutants don’t make it to the new area first, they become trapped between antibiotic layers.

Now that’s a housing crisis.

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