December 06, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Biting the Dust

Gambians took to the streets Monday. This time the excuse was to celebrate the freedom of Ousainou Darboe and 18 other political prisoners, the BBC reported.

But the real cause for merriment was days old but still sweet for many Gambians. The release of prisoners came after Gambian President Yahya Jammeh lost an election after 22 years in office, a startling event on a continent where leaders are increasingly making their terms last a lifetime.

Jammeh once predicted that he would rule Africa’s smallest country for a billion years.

Darboe was the leader of the United Democratic Party. He was set to run against Jammeh before he was jailed in April on charges of unlawful assembly stemming from demonstrations against the murder of suspects held in police custody.

In response, the country’s opposition forces rallied around property developer Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in a December 1 vote.

“A new Gambia is born,” Barrow told the Associated Press after his shocking victory. “We want everybody on board now. This is Gambia, politics is over.”

Technically, Darboe and his fellow ex-convicts are out on bail. But it’s likely Barrow will drop all charges against them when he assumes power early next year. He has vowed to free political prisoners and reverse Jammeh’s moves to exit the British Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

Note the court reference. Human rights groups say long-serving African leaders like Jammeh might face charges in the ICC or other venues someday. Individuals rarely remain in power for decades without cutting corners, after all. Amnesty International keeps a list of Jammeh’s abuses, but the Irish Times conveyed the point more clearly – and therefore more horrifically.

“Jammeh’s reign was the stuff of horror,” the Dublin-based newspaper wrote. “Paranoid, he hunted down hundreds of Gambians on charges of sorcery in 2009, bussing them to secret locations and poisoning them with a hallucinogenic concoction.”

Quartz noted that Jammeh’s fellow long-serving heads of state throughout Africa were largely silent about the election.

No letter of congratulations came from Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, who ignited a near-civil war in his country by running for an unprecedented third term. Nor was one received from Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos – in power for 37 years, but pledging to leave soon. Nor from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni – 30 years; Rwanda’s Paul Kagame – 17 years; or Gabon’s Ali Bongo, whose family has run his small country for 50 years.

Those leaders have been around for a long time. But maybe they are not taking their jobs quite so much for granted now.

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WANT TO KNOW

Another Scalp

A Brazilian Supreme Court judge has ordered the president of the country’s Senate to step down, in what would be another scalp for Brazil’s long-running battle against government corruption.

Judge Marco Aurelio Mello issued an injunction Monday ordering Renan Calheiros, one of Brazil’s most senior politicians, to step down, the BBC reported. A close ally of center-right President Michel Temer, Calheiros faces criminal charges for allegedly taking bribes from a construction company.

Temer assumed office after former President Dilma Rousseff was dismissed following an impeachment trial earlier this year, so Brazil does not currently have a vice president. That puts Calheiros second in line to assume the presidency in the event of Temer’s death or incapacity – a situation Mello said is untenable.

Calheiros’ troubles come amid a widespread effort to root out government corruption that has already hit several other top politicians — including former speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha, Rousseff, and her superstar mentor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Into the Fray

France’s Prime Minister announced Monday he will resign his post to make a run at the presidency in a bid to fill the vacuum left by the unpopular President François Hollande.

Manuel Valls, 54, hopes to represent Hollande’s Socialist party in an effort to stave off the rise of Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front, the New York Times reported. Valls was Hollande’s interior minister from 2012 to 2014, when he was named prime minister.

His resignation means Hollande is expected to appoint a new prime minister and shuffle his cabinet in the coming days.

Though early polls suggested Valls would do better in the primaries than Hollande and gave him a lead in the first round voting scheduled for next month, he faces a challenge from more than a dozen candidates in the open primary – which includes other left-wing parties as well as the Socialists.

Even if Valls does win the right to represent the left, widespread anti-government sentiment and divisions among France’s left-leaning voters could make it difficult for him in the general elections next year.

Unsettled

Israel’s parliament moved a step closer to legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements built without permission on Palestinian territory.

In a 60-49 vote on Monday, the Israeli parliament granted its initial approval to a revised bill that would legalize the controversial settlements, though it would allow for the court-ordered demolition of one such outpost this month, according to the Associated Press (AP).

The vote came in “sharp defiance” to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s call for Israel to rein in the construction of settlements on West Bank land, the Guardian noted. The UN envoy for the Middle East peace process also condemned the move, calling it “a very worrying initiative.”

Several more approvals are required before the bill becomes law. Originally promoted by the far-right Jewish Home Party, the bill has been criticized by moderate Israelis and Palestinians alike as a blow to the prospects for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the far right sees it as paving the way to another sort of solution, according to the AP – the annexation of the West Bank.

DISCOVERIES

Getting Down to Bees-ness

Bees play a pivotal role in producing honey and spreading pollen, yet in countries like Egypt they still suffer from an unwarranted reputation for aggression and violence.

That’s what inspired Mohamed Hagras to entice dozens of honeybees to gather around his face and form what he calls the “Beard of Bees.”

The 31-year-old engineer-turned-beekeeper said he hopes to educate his fellow Egyptians on the benefits bees provide.

“The goal is to show that bees are not aggressive,” Hagras told Reuters at his farm in the Nile Delta province of Menoufia. “On the contrary, they are helpful and produce things that help humans and agriculture.”

Hagras creates his beard by extracting hormones from queen bees after they die and placing them in a box on his chin to attract bees from the same hive. Hagras said he uses this technique both during his competitive live performances and to create new hives for bees.

Hagras has already brought his “Beard of Bees” to compete in record-breaking competitions and exhibitions. His opponents so far have included a Canadian model’s “Bikini of Bees” and the current world record holder – a Chinese beekeeper who in 2015 covered himself with over a million bees weighing nearly 242.5 lbs.

Check out some pictures of the Egyptian’s apian beard here.