The World Today for October 04, 2017



Of Witchcraft, Protests and WhatsApp

The killing of a cow in Kparatao, Togo, explains a lot about the unstable situation in this tiniest of West African countries.

Troops loyal to embattled President Faure Gnassingbé were sweeping the village for weapons recently when they shot the animal, the Guardian newspaper of Nigeria reported.

Authorities said the cow was threatening the police. But in truth they likely killed the animal because they believed opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam, who grew up in Kparatao, was somehow using it as a familiar – an animal-shaped spirit that assists in witchcraft.

“Animist beliefs are still very common in Togo,” said Comi Toulabor, a researcher at the Institute of Political Studies of Bordeaux in France. “The military wanted to symbolically kill Tikpi Atchadam.”

The cow’s shooting is among several developments that have galvanized opponents of Gnassingbé.

Protesters in recent days have called for term limits for the president, whose family has ruled Togo for 50 years, the longest of any African family. Gnassingbé took over after his father Eyadéma died in office in 2005. Eyadéma abolished term limits from Togo’s constitution in 2002.

Sound familiar?

Throughout Africa, strongmen and their dynasties often stay in office far longer than the letter of the law would allow. Think Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda for some recent examples.

Now that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh was forced to quit after losing his reelection earlier this year, following a campaign where protesters also called for change, Togo is the only country on the continent without a constitutional term limit. However, Uganda’s parliament is preparing to vote on a bill to remove an age-limit clause from its constitution – a move that would allow 73-year-old President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for three decades, to run for re-election in 2021.

In Togo, the president has responded to the civil unrest by shutting down the internet, with the effect of pouring cold water on his constituents’ sex lives. The Guardian of Britain reported that Togolese use WhatsApp as a dating tool for a culture where “casual sex is commonplace.”

The shutdown has more short-term serious consequences, too, as folks depending on Western Union and MoneyGram remittances from abroad suddenly had their income cut off.

Things might change.

Gnassingbé’s ruling Union for the Republic party has proposed legislation that would impose a 10-year term limit. The president has called for a nationwide referendum on the question this month.

The yes camp is almost sure to win, though the vote has yet to be scheduled. But the opposition rejects the premise of the referendum because they want the term limits to be retroactive.

With an entrenched political machine and the support of the military, Gnassingbé would likely win presidential elections in 2020 and 2025, setting the stage for him to remain in power until 2030.

This change, if one can call it that, might be the best the Togolese people can expect for now.



Liberté or Securité?

On Tuesday, France took a big step toward making permanent the emergency counterterrorism measures it adopted after the dramatic attacks of 2015, after the lower house of parliament approved a bill that codifies measures like search and seizure and house arrest without judicial review.

Some tweaking may be required before the upper and lower houses agree on a final version of the law, but most of the provisions are expected to sail through, even though the trade-off of liberty for security once might have been considered dangerous, the New York Times reported.

The bill is President Emmanuel Macron’s first major piece of security legislation. Among its most stringent provisions: the right to restrict the movement of people suspected of threatening national security or harboring terrorist ideas.

Critics argue that without judicial oversight, the security forces may violate suspects’ rights based on faulty or thin intelligence, or racial profiling, potentially further alienating Muslims and minorities. In response, France’s interior minister justified the law as “a lasting response to a lasting threat.”


Tough Talks

Reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, each of which controls one part of the Palestinian territories, immediately ran into trouble on Tuesday, after Hamas refused to forfeit its large arsenal of weapons.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group seeking the destruction of the Israeli state, seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007, dividing the disputed territories among rival governments located on opposite sides of Israel. The division is a major obstacle in efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state.

The new round of talks represent “by far the most ambitious attempt by the Palestinian rivals to end a 10-year rift,” the Associated Press reported. But the visit by Fatah Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to Gaza this week is largely symbolic, and the real nuts and bolts of negotiations will not start until next week in Egypt.

While Hamas has resisted reconciliation in the past, it may now be prepared to deal: Gaza has fallen deeper into poverty following a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade, three devastating wars with Israel and years of international isolation.


Back in Full Force

He may have been forced to resign as prime minister, but Pakistan’s recently ousted premier Nawaz Sharif is far from finished.

On Tuesday, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PML-N) central executive committee reelected him as head of the party, saying he was “back with full force,” Reuters reported.

A day earlier, the PML-N had used its parliamentary majority to amend a law to allow him to reassume the party leadership.

In July, Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified Sharif for office for failing to declare the sources of his income, compelling him to step down as prime minister and PML-N chief – though he retained control of both positions from behind the scenes.

He still faces corruption allegations, and is expected to be indicted next week, along with three of his children. But his denials of any wrongdoing appear to be enough to satisfy his own party members, at least – no one came forward to oppose his bid to resume the leadership.


Quality Control

The Protivin brewery in the Czech Republic sources fresh spring water as the primary ingredient in its beer.

To ensure that the water it uses remains free of pollutants, the brewery has enlisted some top-notch quality controllers: Five crayfish.

The critters react quickly to slight changes in their aquatic environment, making them ideal candidates to safely and naturally monitor the quality of a particular water supply, Reuters reported.

Using high-tech, infrared sensors and data visualization, Czech brewers monitor the crayfish’s heart rates and know within three minutes if something fishy is going on with the water supply.

“When three or more crayfish are moving or change their pulse activity, we know that the water parameters have changed,” said head brewer Michal Voldrich.

Researchers have used crayfish to monitor levels of water pollutants before, but never for the sole purpose of preserving the deliciousness of a good brew.

Be thankful for natural innovation – and a clean, pollutant-free buzz.

Click here to see these quality controllers in action.

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