The World Today for January 19, 2017


Gambian Standoff

The political crisis in The Gambia has been heralded as a face-off between the forces currently at odds throughout the continent.

On one side stand the forces of democracy – civil and human rights activists, opposition leaders and others who want the ballot box to determine who rules. On the other stand authoritarians – often aging leaders or their family members who have overseen corrupt regimes for decades despite laws that technically limit their powers and terms in office.

On Wednesday, the authoritarians scored one.

A few hours before President Yahya Jammeh was supposed to step down, The Gambia’s parliament extended his term by three months and declared a state of emergency, Al Jazeera reported. Then he outright refused to go, the BBC said. As a result, Senegalese troops backed by other African forces were poised to enter The Gambia Thursday, with Jammeh’s army chief saying his troops would not fight their entry into the country,  Agence France-Presse reported.

After running The Gambia for 22 years, Jammeh lost his reelection bid in December to Adama Barrow, a dark horse candidate and real estate entrepreneur who formerly worked as a department store security guard in London.

Initially Jammeh conceded, sending waves of jubilation not only among Gambian expatriates who have fled the country but also across Africa. Finally, a strongman opted to leave peacefully.

But Jammeh later decided the election was flawed, citing “foreign influences.” He filed a complaint with the country’s top court, saying he would need to remain in office for the good of the country.

It seemed like he was making good on his erstwhile promise to rule the country for one billion years, The New York Times noted, adding that Jammeh has also claimed he could cure AIDS with prayers and bananas.

Barrow and his supporters have vowed not to back down, saying The Gambia’s constitution clearly outlines the transition of presidential power after an election.

But under Jammeh’s state of emergency “acts of disobedience” and “acts intended to disturb public order” – read: anti-Jammeh demonstrations – are now prohibited.

Barrow is nonetheless planning on holding his inauguration today, as scheduled, somewhere in the country if he can’t conduct the ceremony in the capital of Banjul.

The president-elect has been in exile in Senegal. He didn’t even return to The Gambia after a dog suspiciously killed his eight-year-old son on Monday.

A crisis is brewing.

The United Kingdom has pulled its tourists from the country, the BBC reported. The African Union has condemned Jammeh, while neighboring Senegal and other African nations are mobilizing forces to quell unrest if necessary, USA Today wrote. Nigeria has offered Jammeh asylum if he leaves.

Perhaps the international community is united against Jammeh because The Gambia is small – around twice as large as Delaware.

That’s irrelevant, though. A tyrant is a tyrant is a tyrant. In Africa as anywhere else, one less in charge is a good thing.


Tough Love

Donald Trump’s admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t extend to his nominee for US ambassador to the United Nations, it seems.

During her confirmation hearings Thursday South Carolina Governor Nikki ­Haley – who criticized Trump during his campaign – said she wouldn’t hesitate to disagree with her boss, the Washington Post reported.

Then she set about proving it: Declaring Russia to be guilty of war crimes in Syria and calling for additional sanctions on Moscow, just days after Trump proposed lifting such sanctions altogether as part of a potential nuclear disarmament deal. Haley also said she opposes banning Muslim migrants to the US or setting up a registry to keep track of them, the New York Times noted.

On the other hand, she echoed Trump’s skepticism about the UN, saying she would look to leverage US funding of the global body to demand reforms and criticizing the recent resolution condemning Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Arrest Averted

The head of Samsung narrowly avoided arrest on bribery charges after a South Korean court said prosecutors did not produce enough evidence to justify issuing a warrant.

Justice Cho Eui-yeon of the Central District Court in Seoul said there was insufficient proof that de facto Samsung chief Jay Y. Lee had bribed President Park Geun-hye to justify arresting him, and it was “difficult to recognize the need” to incarcerate him, the New York Times reported.

The decision is likely to anger South Koreans watching the case to gauge whether the judicial system is ready to crack down on white-collar crimes committed by the country’s huge, family-owned conglomerates. Samsung has been investigated many times for corruption. But Lee would have been the first of its leaders to be jailed on such charges – even though his father was twice convicted of bribery and tax evasion, for which he received a presidential pardon.

The younger Lee is suspected of bribing Park in connection with the influence-peddling scandal that led to her impeachment.

Mali Attack

A deadly suicide bombing killed at least 60 people and injured more than 100 others in Mali on Wednesday, highlighting the security challenges that still plague the country four years after the French military intervened to drive jihadists out of power in its major northern cities.

Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate said that an associated group carried out the attack, according to the BBC.

suicide bomber in an explosives-laden vehicle drove into the Joint Operational Mechanism base in the city of Gao, which is home to Malian soldiers and former fighters who had signed a 2015 peace agreement with the government, as hundreds of them were gathering for a meeting, the Associated Press reported.

“If the security situation continues to deteriorate, then soon there won’t be any peace to keep in Mali,” UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

In recent years, Mali has been battling Algeria-based al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), as well as the homegrown Ansar Dine – a group lead by prominent Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, notes Voice of America. Both groups aim to spread Islamic law in Mali.


Neutral to a Point

The Swiss are famous for their neutrality. But even this famed stance has limits, at least where matters of citizenship are concerned.

Consider the case of Nancy Holten, a Dutch-born, 42-year-old who has lived in Switzerland for 34 years. She currently resides with her Swiss-born children in the northern village of Gipf-Oberfrick.

Swiss authorities recently rejected Holten’s application for naturalized Swiss citizenship for the second time, wrote The Atlantic.

Under Swiss law, cantons and municipalities decide on applications for naturalization rather than the federal government. An applicant’s peers have a say in the decision.

Nancy Holten’s peers don’t like her, it seems.

Gipf-Oberfrick residents have decried Holten’s opposition to beloved Swiss traditions, particularly the custom of putting large bells around cows’ necks.

It’s proof she hasn’t integrated, said Holten’s neighbors. One politician even said Holten would not be granted citizenship “if she annoys us and doesn’t respect our traditions.”

But hope is not lost: Holten is appealing their decision and has even scored a book deal in the process about her activism, to be titled What Annoys.

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