The World Today for November 03, 2016


The Invisible Hand

Cameroonians donned black and sang religious hymns last month to mourn those who perished in a train derailment that claimed almost 80 lives and injured more than 600 people last month.

Identifying the deceased has been an arduous process: The train was packed with more than 1,300 riders –  many of whom didn’t buy tickets, Reuters reported. An official roster of passengers doesn’t exist.

“I still cannot find my brother who was on this train,” said one man in Eseka, the site of the incident.

Some say the tragic event was part of a larger crisis that has been playing out in the poor West African country – which boasts some of the continent’s best economic growth numbers but suffers from dilapidated infrastructure and an absentee president.

As a result, Cameroonians quickly moved past shock and began blaming their leaders for their indifference to the state of the country.

President Paul Biya, 83, ascended to power in 1982. He’d spent much of his early political career tied to one of Cameroon’s founding fathers, ex-President Ahmadou Ahidjo, before supplanting him.

Biya has since become what the BBC calls one of Africa’s most “entrenched” leaders: He’s been in power for over 30 years. In 2008, he amended the constitution so he could seek a third seven-year term.

His party has overwhelmingly won every election since the early 1990s, though critics are quick to point out electoral irregularities and a system rife with political and judicial corruption.

But Biya’s hands-off approach to governance seems to contradict his tight grip on political power.

He’s often absent, leaving the country not only to attend diplomatic meetings abroad but also for so-called “private stays” in Europe that last for weeks.

Prior to the Eseka train derailment, Biya and his wife spent 35 days abroad. They did not return to the mourning nation until two days after the tragedy.

Government authorities have claimed that President Biya need not be physically present to attend to matters of state. Indeed, the country has experienced a decade-long increase in its gross domestic product – one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s strongest – along with high literacy rates.

But pressing problems undercut their claims.

Cameroon has been fighting the Islamist-terror group Boko Haram for the past two years, and about 50,000 people have been displaced by jihadist violence. Food insecurity in the country’s north, already a problem before Boko Haram’s menace, has skyrocketed.

Infrastructural problems also plague the nation. The collapse of a new highway between the capital Yaoundé and the coastal city of Douala led to the influx of passengers riding the Camrail train that derailed last month.

Biya still enjoys a large following, reports claimed, in large part because the economy continues to grow through exports of palm oil and other resources.

But Cameroonians grieving on the streets of Yaoundé show that Biya must at least appear to act more like a hands-on leader rather than one fond of the disappearing act.


Sworn Out

More than a thousand protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong Wednesday over a possible intervention by Beijing into the top-level workings of the nominally independent province’s legislature, according to Radio Free Asia.

At issue: Efforts by two legislators from the Youngspiration movement who used their swearing in ceremony to make a statement about Hong Kong’s dubious independence. Revising the official vows, Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-ching pledged their loyalty to the “Hong Kong nation” instead of to China and added curses, slurs, and pro-independence slogans to their oaths.

The government is now seeking to bar Leung and Yau from the legislature for life. Protests broke out after Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying said he might seek guidance from the National People’s Congress (NPC) over how Hong Kong’s mini constitution, the Basic Law, should treat the lawmakers.

Reunited with mainland China in 1997, Hong Kong was purportedly to remain unchanged for 50 years under the so-called “one country, two systems” policy.

Graft, Again

Following the never-ending Petrobras saga in Brazil and the ongoing probe of South Korea’s president’s relationship with her so-called spiritual advisor, South African President Jacob Zuma is the latest to come under the microscope – with calls mounting for his resignation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Zuma may have breached government rules on ethics, and a company in which his son held an interest may have committed fraud to help members of a powerful local family to make some $500 million in business deals with the government, according to a report by the former public protector – an independent parliamentary watchdog under South Africa’s constitution.

The beleaguered president may also have to deal with 783 corruption and racketeering charges. In April, the High Court overturned a decision to drop those cases just before he came to office as president in 2009. So if his appeal fails, he could again face prosecution.

Civilian Collateral

The Islamic State is turning terrorism into a weapon of conventional war in Mosul, targeting all minorities, government workers and security forces and other groups and threatening to kill anyone who tries to escape.

As Iraqi troops close in on the city, that means not only that a flood of refugees is coming but also a spike in collateral damage, the Voice of America reported.

More than 20,000 people have been displaced since the offensive began more than two weeks ago, and as many as a million more are expected, the news agency said.

But because Islamic State’s brutality, the sound of shelling can come as a relief – as it offers the promise of rescue, some said.

“We were happy” when we heard the fighting, one refugee told NPR. “We knew it was dangerous, but we just wanted to be under the control of the army.”


Who You Gonna Call?

It could stymie the sale of the most desirable of homes. The décor, location and price tag are just right. There’s one problem: ghosts.

Enter Jane Phillips. She’s part of a lively industry of psychics, ghostbusters and paranormal investigators who visit “haunted” properties and “clear” away unwanted spirits – for hundreds of dollars a visit – according to the Wall Street Journal.

For up to $750, Phillips consults with Santa Fe real-estate agents to remove “energetic things” from ghosts to dark energies emanating from another dimension.

The work mainly occurs “in my imagination—but my imagination is real,” Phillips told the Journal.

And it’s helped close housing deals, said one Santa Fe realtor who has called on Phillips for her services to “clear out” six listings.

But not all ghostbusters are keen to vanquish these phantoms. New Orleans-based medium Cari Roy encouraged one of her clients, the owner of an 1830s bed-and-breakfast in New Orleans, to share his home with a wayward spirit.

“Who am I to throw out a ghost who has been here for hundreds of years?” Roy, who considers ghosts a vital part of the city’s fabric, told the Wall Street Journal.

Check out some photos of the haunted bed-and-breakfast here.

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