The World Today for May 10, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Clearing the Path

For decades, world leaders have launched many high-powered development and philanthropic initiatives in Africa.

Seven years ago, for example, the European Union kicked off its Millennium Development Goal Initiative to help African nations reach United Nations-adopted development goals like wiping out poverty.

The EU poured more than 1 billion euros – almost $1.1 billion at today’s foreign exchange rates – into eradicating problems like child malnutrition and food insecurity in impoverished countries like Mozambique and Rwanda.

But despite these massive expenditures – and the high levels of economic growth many African nations have seen in past decades – their benefits have so far failed to trickle down to millions of ordinary Africans.

That’s because the biggest gains from these decades of growth have pooled around the continent’s small but wealthy elites, according to a recent report by British aid group Oxfam.

This crushing inequality is in turn fuelling levels of poverty in Africa that are far higher than previously thought, wrote the Washington Post.

Unfortunately, inequality is also growing. Oxfam estimates up to 350 million Africans are at risk of falling into extreme poverty within the next 15 years.

In that vein, the International Monetary Fund concluded on Tuesday that Africa’s economy this year will “barely keep pace” with population growth. Declining commodity prices were one factor in the sluggishness. But “poor policies and rising public debt” were also to blame, the IMF said.

These imbalances – and the dangers they pose to African societies – were heatedly discussed at the World Economic Forum in Durban, South Africa last week. But WEF participants were at odds over what to do next.

Some, like Germany’s powerful Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, have said the solution could be found in more investment from Germany and other Western nations in Africa’s infrastructure.

But others urged Africa to move past Western policies that have increased the continent’s inequality and called on the continent to chart its own path.

“[Inequality] will become a major drag on economic growth,” WEF co-chair Winnie Byanyima told the Associated Press. “Africa should stop imitating the failing policies of Europe and America and develop a new economic model that works for all Africans.”

Also worrying is the prospect that one of the continent’s long-standing sources of growth – trade with China and the import of low-priced Chinese goods – is at risk of drying up as prices rise.

Hundreds of businesses have sprung up in Africa that cater almost exclusively to the trade of Chinese goods on the continent, wrote Quartz.

Their existence would be at risk if these trade flows were to wind down.

That might not be a bad thing. Some countries like Namibia have accused China of behaving like a new colonial overlord in Africa.

Still, a withdrawal of Chinese involvement would be unlikely to clear the path for a new boom on the continent.

WANT TO KNOW

A Softer Touch

South Korea’s new president said that he might visit Pyongyang to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances.

Mirroring US President Donald Trump’s about-face on the one-time global pariah, newly elected President Moon Jae-in didn’t elaborate on what those circumstances might be, the Washington Post reported.

But broadly speaking Moon favors a softer approach than his predecessor – who was impeached and forced to step down over an influence-peddling scandal involving the country’s largest companies.

At his swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, Moon also pledged to end political corruption and ease tensions over the deployment of the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) – which has angered China, Reuters reported.

“I will urgently try to solve the security crisis,” Reuters quoted Moon as saying in his first speech as president. “If needed, I will fly straight to Washington. I will go to Beijing and Tokyo and, if the conditions are right, to Pyongyang also.”

Rinse Cycle

Brazil is prepping for the biggest political drama since the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff last year.

Rousseff’s predecessor — the once wildly popular Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known simply as “Lula” – takes the stand Wednesday in the long simmering “Operation Car Wash” corruption investigation, Canada’s the Globe and Mail reported.

Prosecutors allege that Lula took perks worth $1.6-million from a construction company in exchange for making sure it won two contracts from the state petroleum company, Petrobras.

His testimony with regard to the allegations comes following his claims that he will run for president again next year – as well as polls showing him to be the most popular candidate.

Some say his return would bring back a government that works on behalf of the poor, while others argue it would mark a return to business as usual – namely, corruption coupled with profligate spending.

Justice Sergio Moro has drawn flak for public statements about Operation Car Wash that call his objectivity into question. If he opts to convict and that conviction is upheld on appeal, Lula will be banned from running for office.

Step on a Crack

Syrian government troops launched a new attack on US-backed opposition fighters near the country’s borders with Iraq and Jordan.

The assault came as US President Donald Trump announced plans to arm a Syrian Kurdish group, known as the YPG, which Turkey considers to be an extension of other Kurdish insurgents and Washington has agreed are terrorists, the Associated Press reported.

Beginning on Tuesday, the attack marks the beginning of a race to control an area that stretches from the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour in northeastern Syria to the border with Iraq, the agency said.

The growing cracks in the multilateral alliance – in which Iran, Turkey, Russia and the US are nominally fighting on the same side against the Islamic State – will feature prominently in a meeting between Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later Wednesday.

Already, the US has deployed additional troops to act as a buffer between Syria’s Kurds and Turkey along the country’s northern border, according to AP.

DISCOVERIES

Work for It

Paris’s shining Eiffel Tower draws in 7 million visitors per year, making it one of the most visited attractions in the world.

But it takes a monumental effort to keep this global treasure ready for the masses, National Geographic reported.

Every seven years, the Eiffel Tower gets a complete makeover with a fresh coat of paint, keeping the 984-foot, 128-year-old French icon rust-free.

The entire process takes around 18 months and adheres to a traditional method: Around 25 crew members scale the tower using 35 miles of climbing rope. They paint the tower by hand using small, round brushes to avoid dripping – just as it was done in the 19th Century.

The Eiffel Tower has had many facelifts over the years. Its original reddish hue has been changed to various earthy shades of brown, for example.

But the tower’s newest beauty routine is shaping up to be a doozy.

Paris’s city authorities are planning a $330 million renovation effort over the next 15 years to improve access and security in anticipation of approval to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, a costly project.

Timeless beauty takes some work.

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