The World Today for December 13, 2017



Hope in Africa

Zimbabwean novelist NoViolet Bulawayo wrote a special message on Facebook for children born on Nov. 21, the day former President Robert Mugabe left office after almost 40 years in power.

“You’re our most precious, most untarnished promise, may you never see what we’ve seen,” wrote Bulawayo, according to the Christian Science Monitor. “May you know, finally, a Great Zimbabwe.”

The man who replaced Mugabe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is no angel. Once a close ally of Mugabe, he’s a former secret police director who stands accused of committing genocide in the 1980s.

But change is nonetheless in the air in this south African country.

Authorities are permitting a white farmer to return to his farm after Mugabe evicted him in June as part of “post-colonial” reforms widely viewed as an effort to distract the public from the country’s moribund economy.

The development was a sign that the new government was serious about restoring property rights and the rule of law, Reuters said.

“All citizens who had a claim to land by birthright, we want them to feel they belong and we want them to build a new country because this economy is shattered,” presidential advisor Chris Mutsvangwa told the news agency.

Government housecleaning is underway. Prosecutors, for example, have charged former Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo with corruption. While he oversaw an economic collapse in a resource-rich country, Chombo somehow acquired at least 100 homes in Zimbabwe alone.

Writing to Mnangagwa to appeal for mercy, Chombo said he was learning “a few hard lessons,” local news outlets reported.

Meanwhile, the country’s new finance minister recently unveiled a proposed budget that Agence France-Presse said was designed to “reestablish its credibility with global financiers in order to relieve chronic cash shortages, a dearth of foreign exchange and a gaping budget deficit.”

Not everything can change quickly. Zimbabwe is likely to continue permitting big game hunters to seek trophies in the country’s sprawling wilderness. Conservationists might grouse, but hunting and safari tourism are among the country’s strongest assets.

“Zimbabwe is on its knees because of economic downturn, yet the international community expects our poor country to look after elephants and lions when we can’t even feed our nation,” Zimbabwean zoologist Victor Muposhi told the New York Times.

Muposhi has a point.

But at least now Zimbabweans have license to imagine a day in the future when they as well as elephants and lions in their country can go happily about their business.



Modern Diplomacy

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin talks with North Korea without preconditions as dictator Kim Jong-un feted his country’s rocket scientists and vowed to build more nuclear weapons, and former NBA star Dennis Rodman proposed a bit of basketball diplomacy.

Tillerson’s overture backs away from an earlier US demand that Pyongyang must first accept that giving up its nuclear arsenal would be part of the negotiations, Reuters reported.

“Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said in a speech to Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank on Tuesday.

That’s more or less the message that former NBA star Dennis Rodman offered, as well. He is reportedly pushing President Donald Trump to send him to North Korea as a peace envoy. Rodman has traveled to North Korea five times in the past and is familiar with both Kim and Trump – from appearances on the Celebrity Apprentice reality TV show.

Meanwhile, Kim awarded medals to workers involved in the country’s ICBM and nuclear weapons programs and vowed to “bolster up the nuclear force in quality and quantity.”


Ideological Shuffle

Poland’s new prime minister backed the eurosceptic Law and Justice party’s calls for more say for national governments in European Union policy making and said Poland should defend its national identity and interests as the EU debates its future.

Named to the office last week in a reshuffle of the government, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, 49, said Polish “sovereignty and tradition should be used in defending national interests” in a speech to the parliament on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Morawiecki also said he “wholeheartedly” supported the government’s overhaul of the judiciary, which the lower house of parliament approved on Friday. Critics from the EU and further afield say those changes are a threat to democracy.

The exit of Britain has cost Poland an important ally in the fight to curb further EU integration, and the rise of French President Emmanuel Macron has increased worries that Poland’s influence may be on the wane, the agency said.


Extending the Shadow

A joint session of the Philippine Congress approved a one-year extension of martial law on the southern island of Mindanao after a brief debate on Wednesday, in support of President Rodrigo Duterte’s effort to “ensure total eradication” of local fighters inspired by Islamic State.

Security officials had told lawmakers that the militants were regrouping and recruiting young fighters to launch new attacks on the island, which is home to around 22 million people, mostly from the Philippines’ Muslim minority, Reuters reported.

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon remained skeptical, calling the move unconstitutional and saying, “Is the request for extension a prelude to the declaration of martial law nationwide?”

Drilon also questioned why the conflict with the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) were suddenly clubbed in with the fight against the Islamists to justify the extension, the Philippine Inquirer reported.

Duterte declared martial law on Mindanao May 23 as the government battled for control of Marawi City. Active fighting ended there in October.


Left Behind

In an unusual twist on the time capsule, an 18th century priest at the church of St. Águeda in northern Spain sent future generations a glimpse of his world through his newly discovered letters, National Geographic reported.

While restoring a statue depicting the crucifixion of Christ, historians noticed that a piece of Jesus’s cloth was loose toward his backside.

Upon further investigation, they discovered two handwritten letters written by local chaplain Joaquín Mínguez in 1777.

The letters cover a variety of topics, such as that year’s harvest and the bout of typhoid fever that plagued the town. There’s even mention of the Spanish Inquisition.

Historians believe that Mínguez’s intention was to create a time capsule for future generations – especially considering how rare it is to find letters or objects hidden in such obtuse locations.

Now excavated from their curious hiding spot, the original letters have been sent to the Archbishop of Burgos to be archived.

But out of respect to the priest’s act, copies of the letters have been left behind – in their very unique hiding place.

Click here to see the historians uncovering the letters.

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