The World Today for October 26, 2017



A No-win Do-over

Kenya is going ahead with its presidential election Thursday.

That’s the case even though an election official fled the country in fear for her safety – and despite the fact that the incumbent’s main challenger has dropped out in protest, and all the losers in the last vote are in the race only to make sure the president has someone to run against.

The Supreme Court could have stepped in and delayed the vote.

But the judges didn’t show up to court on Wednesday, underscoring everything that’s wrong with this vote in East Africa’s powerhouse, say analysts. Voters know it all too well.

“I won’t vote again,” said George Nyongesa, who vowed not to participate in the do-over. “No reforms, no elections.”

The Supreme Court ordered a do-over after the tumultuous election Aug. 8 that handed victory to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, which was fraught with irregularities and deemed unfair.

Now the country is making a “historic mistake” holding the vote at all, Bloomberg reported. Taking place without any credible reforms, the election undermines the “landmark” court ruling that in a first in Africa, reversed an incumbent’s hold on power and affirmed the importance of transparent, free and fair elections.

Many fear that Thursday’s vote will kindle the kind of ethnic violence – Kenyans usually vote along tribal lines – that occurred over the 2007 elections in which as many as 1,500 people died. But Kenya also missed an opportunity, say analysts.

The main economic power of East Africa, Kenya might have served as an example for other countries in the region. The court ruling caused heads to turn across the continent and served as a warning bell for all those aging leaders who will do anything to stay in power (think Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, to name just one).

But instead of implementing reforms and restoring faith in the electoral system, Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party created legislation to make it harder in the future for the Supreme Court to step in.

And intimidation and fear continued: The Supreme Court judges were threatened to ensure the elections proceed and the deputy chief justice was shot at Tuesday to drive that point home. Meanwhile, Roselyn Akombe, in charge of election operations, fled the country, and the head of Kenya’s electoral commission said he doubted it was possible to hold “free, fair and credible elections.”

So it was no surprise that Raila Odinga, the challenger to Kenyatta, stepped down.

All this chaos is a big distraction for a country struggling with security issues and a drought that has caused food prices to skyrocket and put off a resurgence in its dynamic economic growth, Bloomberg reported.

It’s also put off hopes that the country can move beyond tribalism for the sake of growth and prosperity.

There is one sentiment that unites Kenyans. Monica Wanjiru, a shop owner in Nairobi and a Kenyatta supporter, echoes voters from the other side when she says, “We are tired of politics and we need to move on as a country.”



Literally Speaking

Ahead of US Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ visit to South Korea later this week, a senior North Korean diplomat has warned that Washington should take its threat of an atmospheric nuclear test literally.

“The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally,” Reuters quoted Ri Yong Pil, a senior diplomat in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, as saying. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said last month Pyongyang may consider conducting “the most powerful detonation” of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

Next week, President Donald Trump visits Asia to garner support for his campaign to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs, while on Wednesday Pyongyang’s ambassador to the United Nations called the recent US joint naval exercise near the Korean peninsula preparation for a pre-emptive strike and nuclear war against his country.


Still Standing

Brazilian President Michel Temer avoided a corruption trial for the second time, narrowly winning a vote in the lower house that will likely allow him to serve out his term to Dec. 2018.

Temer allies defeated a motion to initiate a trial before the Supreme Court by a margin of 251 to 233 on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported. But the smaller margin in this vote compared with the previous one and a delay in the vote hint at some discontent among his supporters.

Many members of the ruling coalition were hesitant to show open support for Temer, so it took the government around seven hours to reach a quorum. Earlier, the Supreme Court suspended Temer’s move to narrow Brazil’s definition of slavery in a bid to please the farm lobby.

Nevertheless, the victory should allow Temer to put the corruption charges behind him for now and deliver at least some of his planned reforms, which include pension cuts and simplifying the tax code, Bloomberg said.


Man on the Inside

A bomb wounded a politician and killed his bodyguard in Kiev on Wednesday, marking the latest in a series of assassination plots that Ukrainian authorities have blamed on the Russian secret services.

Ihor Mosiychuk, a populist member of Parliament with the far-right Radical Party, had just finished a television interview and exited the TV station building when the bomb exploded, the New York Times reported. The leader of the Radical Party said Mosiychuk had been singled out for his “political positions,” and that “it is obvious this is the work of enemy special services, because the job was professional.”

The police offered no immediate motive for the attack, though Mosiychuk was a combative figure who had publicly insulted Russian politicians.

The bombing follows a series of assassinations and assassination attempts over the past year or so, including the shooting last March of a former member of the Russian Parliament who had defected to Ukraine.


Lost in Translation

We’ve all had those awkward moments when we get misunderstood by others due to language barriers – but can getting lost in translation be a punishable offense?

That’s what happened to a Palestinian construction worker in the West Bank when he posted a picture on Facebook recently: What he thought was an innocuous caption put authorities on high alert, the Guardian reported.

After he posted a picture of himself next to a bulldozer with the caption “good morning” written in Arabic, Facebook’s translation algorithm reinterpreted the phrase to “hurt them,” or “attack them,” alerting Israeli police to a possible lone-wolf attack.

But police came to an embarrassing realization after hours of interrogation: It turned out that none of the Arabic-speaking officers had read the post before the arrest. Realizing their mistake, they promptly released the man.

Facebook later apologized to the man and his family for the mishap, and is looking into solutions to prevent similar incidents.

But Facebook’s translation algorithms aren’t the only ones mistranslating phrases that can be deeply offensive and have real-world consequences.

Just a few weeks ago, the Chinese social network WeChat was forced to make a public apology when it mistranslated the phrase “black foreigner” into a racial slur.

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