The World Today for July 31, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

AFRICA

The Big Five

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is known around the world as a leader who helped rebuild his country after the horrors of genocide.

But at home, Kagame is a brutal autocrat who tortures and assassinates his political enemies, wrote London School of Economics fellow Brian Klaas recently in the Washington Post.

Kagame apparently intends to follow in the footsteps of many other African heads of state. He recently altered the Rwandan constitution to allow him to remain in power through 2034 – a term extension for himself totaling 40 years.

“What can be done to stop African autocrats like Kagame from simply refusing to step down when they are supposed to?” asked Klaas.

Many Africans are asking the same question.

“When Will Kabila Go? Congolese Leader Long Overstays His Welcome,” read a headline earlier this month in the New York Times, referring to Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila.

Kabila keeps coming up with reasons to delay a vote in a reelection race where he is trailing slightly in the polls, prompting fears of violent clashes between police and protesters who want him to follow the law and step down as he was supposed to do late last year.

“The president needs to go,” a motorcycle-taxi driver told the Times in Kinshasa, the capital. “By not going, he is seeking war. So we’ve decided to go to war, too.”

Africa watchers say ‘The Big Five’ elections kicking off this week will determine the future of Africa. But they add, sadly, the elections will underscore the continent’s problems, too.

Most of all, as the Financial Times noted, the elections will “tell the diverse tale of democracy in Africa.”

Elections are slated for Rwanda on Aug. 4. Pools in Kenya will follow four days later. And voters in Angola, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to go to the polls in the next five months.

Kenya and Liberia will hold robust democratic elections, the Financial Times wrote, with Kenya hoping to avoid the violence of the last elections. Kagame will steamroll his opposition. In Angola, President José Eduardo dos Santos is stepping down after 37 years. His anointed successor, Defense Minister João Lourenço, is a shoo in as his replacement.

Voter intimidation, violence and media bias are likely to mark all of the contests, however, wrote the Daily Maverick, a South African publication. Canada’s Globe and Mail noted that those tactics are how many African leaders like Lourenço manage to remain in power for so long.

The Republic of Congo – the northern neighbor of the Democratic Republic of Congo – is a case in point.

Voters were electing a new parliament on Sunday under a new constitution enacted in 2015 that allowed President Denis Sassou Nguesso to stay in office after holding power for 33 of the past 38 years.

When Sassou Nguesso’s party won a majority in the first round of voting, which excluded a chunk of the country due to violence stemming from a rebellion, some members of the opposition decided to boycott the vote, reported Africanews.

The Congolese opposition knows what dictators don’t like to hear: it’s not the franchise if its fake.

[siteshare]The Big Five[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

Crossing Lines

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ignored the threat of US sanctions to proceed with a controversial election aimed at rewriting the country’s constitution on Sunday, raising the specter of a ban on US oil purchases that could turn the cash-starved nation into a failed state.

The 545 members of the newly elected National Constituent Assembly that will rewrite Venezuela’s constitution are made up of mostly Maduro supporters, including his wife, Bloomberg reported. Their rewrite of the constitution is widely expected to move the country further toward autocratic rule.

Citing a “red line” set by US President Donald Trump, an expert from the political consultancy Control Risks said some form of US sanctions are now virtually inevitable. But there have already been calls to focus on Venezuelan officials rather than taking broad measures like a ban on oil purchases, which would hurt ordinary people as badly as they do Maduro.

Police clashed with demonstrators seeking to stop the polls and as many as 15 people were killed, according to opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Panama issued statements saying they wouldn’t recognize the vote.

[siteshare]Crossing Lines[/siteshare]

RUSSIA

Tit for Tat

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Washington to cut 755 staff members from its various diplomatic missions in Russia in response to US sanctions related to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Though both countries have expelled diplomats in the past, the Washington Post noted that Putin’s move marks the largest such forced reduction ever made in a single swoop.

It’s not an entirely arbitrary figure. In an interview with the Rossiya-1 television channel, Putin noted that the US diplomatic presence in Russia would be capped at 455 — the number of Russian staff working in the US. However, as many as 867 of around 1,200 US mission staff are foreign nationals – chiefly local Russian support staff.

New, “perhaps asymmetrical” US reprisals may soon follow, the paper noted.

[siteshare]Tit for Tat[/siteshare]

PAKISTAN

All in the Family

An anti-corruption drive tied to the so-called Panama Papers has pushed Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif out of office, but it’s not clear whether the move will result in any lasting change in the country’s political culture.

After the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the corruption investigation against him was sufficient grounds to remove him from office, Sharif named his younger brother Shahbaz to replace him as the country’s leader, Al-Jazeera noted.

The development may not be enough to propel opposition leader Imran Khan to victory in national elections slated for mid-2018, the New York Times reported. A former cricket star, Khan has made the fight against graft the centerpiece of his political career, but many observers say that even if Sharif is barred from running again – something not clear in the court ruling – his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party will continue to dominate Parliament.

While Khan has gained support among urban voters since founding the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in 1996, a populist message has not been enough to break Sharif’s strong, patronage-based hold over the rest of the country.

[siteshare] All in the Family [/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Body Electric

The age-old pickup line of telling someone that they’re out of this world may actually have some basis in fact.

That’s because new computer simulations conducted by astronomers reveal that nearly half of the atoms in our galaxy – including those that make up humans – may come from beyond the confines of our Milky Way.

Using supercomputer models to observe how galaxies evolved over the course of billions of years, scientists noted that exploding stars in smaller galaxies blasted clouds of minerals and elements into larger, neighboring ones.

The Milky Way, for example, absorbs as much castoff material from neighboring systems as the mass of our solar system’s sun each year, the Guardian reported.

That’s a shift in previous thinking that posited that galaxies the size of our own grew primarily from matter left over from the big bang, said Claude-Andre Faucher-Giguere, an astronomer on the team that conducted the simulations, published recently in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“What we did not anticipate, and what’s the big surprise, is that about half of the atoms that end up in Milky Way-like galaxies come from other galaxies,” he said. “It gives us a sense of how we can come from very far corners of the universe.”

[siteshare]Body Electric[/siteshare]

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