The World Today for March 16, 2017


Broken Promises, New Hopes

Troubled Somalia enjoyed a rare moment of exuberance last month when thousands poured into the streets of Mogadishu to celebrate. The festivities stemmed from the Somalian parliament electing Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed – also known as Farmajo – as president by a near landslide vote.

Farmajo rose to power on his reputation as a corruption fighter in a campaign field that was littered with dubious politicians, wrote the Financial Times.

Still, when British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Mogadishu on Wednesday, his trip was unannounced, likely due to security concerns about the troubled country.

The Institute for Security Studies, a South African think-tank, also noted that Farmajo is not necessarily beyond reproach: The parliamentary vote was overshadowed by allegations of electoral manipulation.

Somalia is illustrative of the difficulties African democracies are facing when it comes to transitions of power.

For every case like Somalia in which the incumbent – in this case, ex-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud – steps down willingly, there’s another instance where a ruling leader just won’t budge.

Equatorial Guinea, for example, will have been led by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Africa’s longest-serving leader, for 42 years if Obiang completes his current term.

Obiang won with over 93 percent of the vote – but critics for years have said elections in the tiny West African country are rigged.

Rebuffing calls for his resignation due to his age and the disastrous state of Zimbabwe’s economy, 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe is already promising to campaign – and win – when Zimbabwe holds elections next year after over three decades in power.

Arguably more interesting was the fallout of the recent election in The Gambia.

After a surprise victory by challenger Adama Barrow, The Gambia’s then-incumbent President Yahya Jammeh offered to step down. Soon after, he reversed himself, and said he would stay in office despite losing.

Jammeh eventually caved, however, fleeing into exile into Equatorial Guinea after neighboring countries threatened military intervention.

Barrow now faces the unenviable task of trying to assert his control over The Gambia following the end of Jammeh’s 22-year tenure. But so far he’s making good on promises to reign in the excesses of his predecessor, wrote Reuters.

There is much to watch out for this year: Angola and Kenya head to the polls in August, and things are already heating up.

Kenyan politicians are already being accused of stoking racial tensions to bring in votes.

And Angola’s elections already promise to be historic given that President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has committed himself to stepping down after 37 years at the helm.

Then again, he’s backtracked on that promise before.


The Grounded Dutchman

The Dutch revolt against Europe appears to have been averted.

Preliminary results showed the Netherlands’ center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte cruising to an easy victory over anti-immigration, anti-European Union Geert Wilders in Wednesday’s election, Reuters reported.

With a 95 percent of votes counted, Rutte’s VVD Party is projected to win 33 of parliament’s 150 seats, down from 41 in 2012. Meanwhile, Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) was projected to win 20 seats, up from 15 in 2012.

Notably, that total is significantly lower than the 24 seats his Freedom Party won in 2010, while support for the Netherlands’ two most pro-EU parties was greatly increased.

All eyes will now turn to the upcoming election in France, where some see the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen as a greater barometer of the populist wave.

“The real bellwether election will be Marine Le Pen’s quest for the French presidency, starting April 23,” an analyst told Reuters.

Conservative Collateral

South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is officially collateral damage.

As acting president in the wake of the impeachment and ouster of President Park Geun-hye, Hwang announced on Wednesday that he will not run for the job as he set May 9 as the date for the snap presidential election mandated by the constitution, the New York Times reported.

All South Korea’s major political parties have already announced schedules for primary races to select their candidates. Hwang remains the most viable candidate for Park’s devastated conservatives. But prior to his announcement that he would not run, he was trailing far behind in opinion polls, the paper said. Those surveys show Moon Jae-in, a liberal opposition leader, as the consistent front-runner.

Also on Wednesday, prosecutors summoned Park to appear for questioning next Tuesday in relation to possible charges of bribery, extortion and abuse of power. Prior to her ouster, Park could not be indicted or summoned for interrogation.

Toe to Toe

Russian officials were notably silent after the US charged two Russian agents and two other hackers with the 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts Wednesday in the wake of suspicions of Russian tampering in the US presidential election.

Russian media, however, was not.

Numerous Russian outlets, including pro-government mouthpiece Russia Today, ran stories about how at least one of those indicted was also charged with high treason last year in Russia.

Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta also linked one of the suspects to a hacker group that is known to leak emails of Russian officials and business personalities and then sell the information abroad.

Russian media outlets then quoted a former CIA intelligence analyst as calling the situation a possible one of “a double agent operation gone bad.”

On Wednesday, the Justice Department released an indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, computer fraud and abuse, economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identify theft, Reuters reported.


A Particular Potato

With global food insecurity on the rise, scientists are getting creative when thinking about the next big trend in agriculture.

One idea: potatoes from Mars.

Potatoes grow in some of the harshest global climates, while also being one of the most diverse – and popular – foods in the world.

So, in early 2016, researchers planted a potato in Peru’s Pampas de La Joya desert. According to NASA scientists, the soil there is as close as it gets on Earth to conditions on the Red Planet, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

Despite the arid, uninhabitable conditions, the experiment was a success, as evidenced from a live stream of the high-tech planter housing the tuber.

Now, scientists are thinking about what space potatoes could mean for humanity.

“The results indicate that our efforts to breed varieties with high potential for strengthening food security in areas that are affected, or will be affected by climate change, are working,” said Walter Amoros, a potato breeder with the International Potato Center, which sponsored the experiment.

Click here to take a look at the mock-Martian potato yourself.

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