The World Today for July 11, 2017



Cake, and a State of Emergency

Zambian President Edgar Lungu’s state of emergency smacks of the strongman tactics that have helped many of Africa’s leaders consolidate power.

Lungu invoked emergency powers on July 6 ostensibly to counter fires at public markets that he called acts of sabotage. He can now ban public gatherings, impose curfews and shut down the media.

“It is a systematic approach by the opposition to stampede us into talks so that we renegotiate the results of the last elections,” he said, according to the Financial Times. “It is a strategy to create terror and panic so that they can say ‘there is tension in the country, let us talk.’”

But on Monday, Zambia’s main opposition party accused Lungu of endangering the country’s democracy and plotting a dictatorship, New24 reported.

The emergency decree “constitutes abuse of power designed to silence his critics and kill democracy,” opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) Vice President Geoffrey Mwamba said. “It is clear that (Lungu’s) actions are premeditated and designed to strengthen the hand of dictatorship.”

In strongman fashion, Lungu used legal obfuscation to achieve his ends, wrote Quartz. Technically, he declared a “threat of a state of emergency,” not a full-blown “state of emergency.”

The distinction is important because the president is currently negotiating a $1.3 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund. Dependent on copper exports, the Zambian economy is tanking due to low commodity prices.

“Lungu hopes to have his cake and eat it,” wrote Quartz, adding that the president might also be fighting rivals in his own ruling Patriotic Front political party and wanting to send a message to the public that he is not in ill health as rumors suggest. “He will have secured powers to consolidate his political control while generating ‘plausible deniability’ to whether or not he has fatally undermined Zambian democracy.”

Zambia was once considered one of Africa’s most stable democracies, the Associated Press observed.

But that reputation is fading. Lungu narrowly won reelection to a second term last year in a campaign that included violence and his opponents alleging polling irregularities.

Coincidentally, Zambian authorities arrested opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema in April on charges of treason, Reuters explained. The BBC argued that the case was putting Zambia’s democracy “at a crossroads.”

Hichilema’s convoy of vehicles failed to give way to the president’s motorcade as both were traveling to a traditional ceremony in western Zambia. Because Hichilema allegedly endangered the president’s life, he’s been charged with treason.

Many African despots have remained in office for years after they were slated to leave. Nobody can predict if Lungu will become yet another one of them. But this is how they started.

[siteshare]Cake, and a State of Emergency[/siteshare]



Good Listener

They say sometimes all you need is a good listener, and that’s all the US is promising Qatar and its Arab rivals this week.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson landed in Kuwait Monday for a series of talks aimed at resolving the diplomatic standoff between Qatar and four of its Arab neighbors, NPR reported. But Washington emphasized Tillerson isn’t there to intervene in the dispute – which the US has been wary to do from the outset.

NPR quoted R.C. Hammond, a senior adviser to Tillerson, as saying the secretary was not acting as a “meditator,” but rather “listening and finding common ground.”

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates closed most major trade routes into Qatar last month, alleging that the Gulf nation finances terrorism abroad and promotes extremist views through Al Jazeera, among other accusations.

Qatar has denied those charges and refused to comply with their regional rivals’ 13-point list of demands, saying the move is designed to curtail its independence.

[siteshare]Good Listener[/siteshare]


Sticks and Stones

Hungary’s rightwing Fidesz government launched a crude poster campaign against Hungarian-born financier George Soros that many believe smacks of anti-Semitism.

The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban spent as much as $21 million on the campaign, which features posters depicting a grinning Soros and the slogan, “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh,” the BBC reported.

Orban’s government is pushing to shutter the Central European University, which Soros founded in Budapest in 1992. And critics say this month’s legislation forcing non-governmental organizations to declare themselves “foreign-funded” was aimed at Soros’ Open Society – which was founded to promote democracy after the collapse of the communist bloc.

Most recently, Soros sparked Orban’s ire by pushing for Europe to accept 300,000 refugees a year directly from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. One of the most dogged opponents of the European Union’s response to the refugee crisis, Hungary in March passed a law allowing all asylum seekers to be held in detention centers near the border.

The accusations of anti-Semitism stem from graffiti scrawled across many posters, as well as the placement of the posters on the floor of Budapest trams so passengers would have to tread on Soros’ face.

[siteshare]Sticks and Stones[/siteshare]


Show Me the Money

Whether it’s palatial mansions or garlands of 500-rupee notes, South Asian politicians have no problem with ostentatious displays of wealth. But explaining where it came from can be a different matter, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has discovered.

Sharif may face trial after a probe found a “significant disparity” between his wealth and his known sources of income, Bloomberg reported. If he can’t explain the discrepancy, “the court shall presume” he is guilty of corruption, the court-appointed investigators said in a report made public Monday.

The Supreme Court will now review the findings and convene a hearing on the allegations July 17. If the court accepts the charges it could lead to Sharif’s resignation or removal from power.

Sharif has denied any wrongdoing and pledged to step down if found guilty. But the allegations and threat of removal could themselves cause chaos in the coup-prone country as it approaches elections next year.

[siteshare]Show Me the Money[/siteshare]


Time Flies

Ah, the good old days of air travel: Champagne flowed, gourmet meals were served tableside, legroom was plentiful and a helpful flight crew catered to your every need.

The golden era of air travel a la the iconic Pan American World Airways may be long gone, but it’s still possible – for a price – to sample the glamour for an evening.

Since late 2014, Anthony Toth has brought his life-long adulation for Pan Am’s memorable service to life with a one-of-a-kind dining experience for patrons in the Los Angeles area.

Toth’s Pan Am Experience restaurant offers visitors a night out in an exact replica of the interior of the classic airline’s Boeing 747 from the 1970s, Reuters reports.

For as much as $690 for a pair of tickets, patrons can sip on classic cocktails and vintage champagne from the era, while also enjoying a stunning recreation of the iconic airline’s most memorable, five-course meals – all served tableside by costumed flight attendants, of course.

“Part of the experience is actually how we present it and roll it on the cart,” said Toth. “It really brings the Pan Am menu to life.”

[siteshare]Time Flies[/siteshare]

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