The World Today for December 20, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Zuma’s Rocky Years

This year was rocky for South African President Jacob Zuma.

Next year could be rockier.

On Monday, for instance, labor leaders claimed that Zuma conspired “like a gangster” with his security agencies to create a rival trade union to undermine workers holding strikes in the country’s platinum mines, South Africa’s News24 reported.

The lawsuit surprised few. The former anti-Apartheid activist’s opponents and fellow African National Congress, or ANC, members alike have panned Zuma for encouraging patronage politics and corruption on a scale that they argue could irretrievably damage South Africa’s economy.

To get a sense of the problem, consider that South Africa’s public watchdog issued a 355-page report last month describing Zuma’s government as a “State of Capture.”

The title referred to the undue influence of the Gupta family, which has earned $500 million in business with the government under Zuma while employing the president’s relatives, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Late last year, Zuma appointed three finance ministers in a single week allegedly to help the Guptas overcome hurdles to secure more public business, too – a pattern that critics charge has eroded confidence among foreign investors over the course of 2016.

The president has been fending off those claims. But many of Zuma’s allies have called for him to step down. It’s doubtful he would leave until he’s ended his term as ANC leader next year, however, and his second and last presidential term does not end until 2019.

“The movement is disintegrating under the president’s watch,” a Zuma ally told South Africa’s Independent Online.

As the president has vowed to remain in power, the infighting is taking its toll.

“All of this comes at a cost for ordinary South Africans, further denting a stagnant economy, and miring a political class in infighting when it could be tackling the country’s immense challenges, notably its enduring poverty and inequality,” read an editorial in The Guardian.

Ratings agencies recently decided not to relegate South Africa’s bond rating to junk status, a consignment that would have set the country back years. But the country is still adrift because Zuma doesn’t have a mandate to pursue reforms and other moves to grow the economy, The Daily Maverick reported.

“Instead of grabbing the opportunity of all reaching for a wrench and twisting away at the various knobs of our spluttering economy, we are going to spend the next 12 months aboard our vessel arguing about the re-arrangement of the deck chairs,” the respected South African news website wrote.

That’s not a recipe for success unless one’s goal is to remain in power to grab as much money as one can.

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WANT TO KNOW

Blood and Art

A Turkish police officer gunned down the Russian ambassador to Turkey at an art gallery on Monday in a disturbing parallel to the assassination that led to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

After shooting the diplomat in front of a room full of horrified spectators in Ankara, the police officer shouted, “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” the Washington Post reported.

The assailant, 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, was killed in a shootout with police. Three other people were wounded in the attack.

Though many lay observers compared the attack to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, analysts said it is unlikely to have such grave repercussions – though it will deal a serious blow to relations between Turkey and Russia.

Russia and Turkey are both allies and opponents in the war in Syria. Both are fighting jihadists linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. But, like the US, Turkey is allied with rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Russia is his main supporter – and an accomplice in the devastating siege of Aleppo.

Terror in Berlin

The driver of a large black truck plowed into a Christmas market in central Berlin Monday night in what the authorities are saying was a deliberate attack.

The attack killed at least 12 people and injured 48 others, USA Today reported. Police arrested a suspect believed to have been the driver about a mile from the scene and discovered a mortally wounded man said to be a Polish national in the truck’s passenger seat. He died while being treated by paramedics.

German media outlets reported that the suspect arrested by the police is a refugee who came to Germany from Afghanistan or Pakistan, a possibility that could put more political pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to walk back her decision to welcome large numbers of refugees displaced by conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

While no group had taken responsibility for the attacks as of early Tuesday, the Islamic State has recently been calling on its supporters to wield vehicles as weapons of terror. In July this year, a Tunisian-born resident of France killed more than 80 people and injured more than 200 others in a similar attack on a Bastille Day celebration in Nice.

Congo Deploys

Military and police hit the streets of Kinshasa in the expectation of violence on Monday, as President Joseph Kabila was poised to remain in office despite the expiration of his term.

A presidential adviser said there is “no possibility” of elections in 2017, while at least 41 opposition members and activists were arrested in the eastern city of Goma on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

Polls were originally slated for November. But Congolese officials say that elections cannot be held until the electoral rolls are updated and other preparations are undertaken – an explanation that many residents see as false justification for Kabila continuing in office.

When the authorities failed to schedule the polls in September, as many as 50 people were killed in violence accompanying the ensuing demonstrations. It’s not clear whether the opposition will call for protests this time. But many expect people to take to the streets.

If Kabila – who came to power after the assassination of his father in 2001 – were eventually replaced through a democratic election, it would mark the first-ever peaceful transfer of power for the Congo.

DISCOVERIES

Reindeer Games

Santa might have to travel lighter than normal this year: His reindeer have seriously slimmed down.

According to a recent study in Global Change Biology presented last week in London, the Svalbard reindeer native to Norway has seen a 12 percent decrease in body mass over the last 20 years.

Climate change is the underlying factor, researchers posit. In the past, Svalbard reindeer had to brush aside a powdering of snow to reveal the grasses, lichens and mosses on which they subsist in the winter. But rising temperatures have created freezing rain that now locks food beneath a sheet of ice.

Reindeer in Norway have seen an average decrease from 55 to 48 kilograms — which Science Magazine reports is a crucial threshold. Female reindeer below 50 kilograms in weight give birth to smaller offspring. Those offspring, in turn, produce smaller calves themselves, altering the evolutionary cycle.

Expecting reindeer mothers are even known to self-abort a pregnancy if they deem food supplies to be too scarce, further winnowing pack sizes.

However, researchers say that something unexpected might curb the trend: further climate change.

If temperatures rise to the point that ice begins to thaw, reindeer could be able to pack on the pounds again in no time.

Perhaps put any heavy gifts on layaway until then.

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