The World Today for December 27, 2017



Speaking Up

The arrest of Cameroonian-American writer Patrice Nganang in Douala earlier this month brought home a conflict that has remained obscure in the US.

A literature professor at Stony Brook University in New York, Nganang criticized President Paul Biya’s handling of a secessionist movement in the English-speaking northwest and southwest regions of the largely French-speaking African country.

“Detaining an important independent voice like Patrice Nganang, who has used his writing to investigate the consequences of violence, is indicative of a movement by the government to silence all political criticism and dismantle the right to free expression,” said PEN America in a statement to the Associated Press.

Serving in office since 1982 – he’s one of many African strongmen to remain in power for too long – Biya has cracked down on the secessionists. The president claims he’s fighting terrorists, but critics said he’s discriminating against a minority that’s standing up for their rights.

An online campaign to free Nganang has sprung up. Local media wrote that he was likely to remain behind bars in a maximum-security prison until at least Jan. 19 when he is scheduled to face a judge again. Newsday reported that he’s accused of threatening to kill Biya, inciting violence and insulting the army.

The crisis in the English-speaking regions erupted late last year when locals staged strikes and protests, saying they couldn’t use their language in courts or other government venues and teachers in English schools often spoke French as their first language. The army attempted to suppress the demonstrations, arresting leaders and allegedly killing as many as four people.

Schools are still closed in the northwestern and southwestern regions.

Recently, Voice of America reported that Cameroonian troops had burned down a village in Mamfe on the Nigerian border after clashes that resulted in the deaths of at least four soldiers and untold civilian casualties. “People are dying in (great) numbers in Mamfe,” a villager told the news service.

The problem has spilled over into Nigeria, where Anglophone refugees have swarmed across the border in search of safety. The United Nations counted more than 7,000 with plenty more seeking asylum. A heavy wet season in the area has made it harder to bring supplies to those folks as overwhelmed locals deal with the influx, the UN added.

The violence has also spread to Cameroon’s parliament, where the Guardian wrote that an English-speaking lawmaker threw an object – potentially a part of her desk or her shoe – at a colleague in protest of legislative leaders refusing to let her or other Anglophone lawmakers speak.

It was a symbol of how actions will replace words when voices are silenced.



Making the Most

Moscow is simultaneously leveraging its pivotal role in foreign affairs in Syria and elsewhere to fight back against Ukraine-related sanctions and making the most of those penalties to lure back money its citizens have squirreled away overseas.

President Vladimir Putin on Monday told lawmakers a new capital amnesty program should be adopted to lure back an estimated $1 trillion stashed overseas, saying greater restrictions related to European and US sanctions “should stimulate the return of capital to Russia,” Bloomberg reported.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday denounced “Washington’s aggressive rhetoric” with regard to North Korea during a phone call with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Hill reported. Tillerson and Lavrov discussed how to move forward in Syria and Ukraine amid an offer from Russia to mediate between the US and North Korea – indicating that Moscow may link these issues to gain leverage.

Bloomberg argues that the latest round of US sanctions on Russia’s oligarchs is causing more worry than previous moves.


Brexit Benefits

The difficult negotiation of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union could have some side benefits – offering a model for how the EU deals with other countries that want close ties with the bloc but aren’t ready to join.

In an interview with the Funke newspaper group, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel suggested that a deal like the one London desires – for a preferential relationship that stops short of full membership – could be the model for relations with Ukraine and Turkey, Reuters reported.

Such an arrangement might include a “new, closer form” of the customs union that Turkey, a candidate for EU membership for decades, already has with the EU and some form of expansion on the “deep and comprehensive free trade area” between the EU and Ukraine that formally came into force in September.

Those sentiments notwithstanding, Ukraine’s desire for closer ties with the EU was a major reason for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and last month the EU slashed funds earmarked for Ankara’s membership bid in a stand against deteriorating human rights in Turkey, the agency reported separately.


A Dam on the Nile

Fearing that a dam in Ethiopia’s highlands will impact the flow of water through the deserts of Sudan to Egyptian fields and reservoirs, Cairo suggested the three nations turn to international experts to help settle the dispute.

Ministers from Ethiopia and Egypt met in Addis Ababa on Tuesday to try to resolve a disagreement over the possible impact of the $4-billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is currently under construction, Reuters reported.

The agency cited officials who took part in the sessions as saying Egypt had suggested involving an international body such as the World Bank.

For their part, Sudan and Ethiopia say Egypt has refused to accept their proposed amendments to the environmental impact assessment. Water sharing has been a contentious issue for decades, with analysts repeatedly warning that a dispute could boil over into conflict.

Currently, Egypt claims the right to around 55 billion cubic meters of water from the river, saying even that amount compels it to recycle water several times and supplement its supply with desalinated seawater, the Financial Times noted. Ethiopia says the dam won’t impact countries downstream but has refused to recognize Egypt’s claim.


Mixed Heritage

Scientists have many theories about the origin of our species. The most widely accepted of them is that humans stemmed from a common ancestor in Africa and migrated out of the continent some 60,000 years ago.

But a new study mapping out the fossil record of human migration suggests that homo sapiens actually migrated from Africa much earlier than previously believed – nearly 120,000 years ago, the International Business Times reported.

At multiple dig sites across Asia and China, archeologists uncovered skull samples that revealed fully-developed homo sapiens 70,000 years older than previously found, confirming that the species’ mass migration occurred way before what was once thought to be the scientific consensus.

Scientists’ new theory partially reinforces previous thought on the matter, however, by confirming that our early ancestors migrated from the continent about 60,000 years ago, but only as small groups of foragers and explorers.

That came to shape the evolution and diversity of those like the Neanderthal, and also peoples across the world from China to Europe, scientists posit.

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