The World Today for February 06, 2018



Bittersweet Symphony

Deemed the continent’s fastest growing economy in 2016 by the International Monetary Fund, and still the world’s largest producer of cocoa, the Ivory Coast is leaps and bounds ahead of many other nations in Africa in terms of economic prowess, development and stability.

It’s an astonishing development for a country that has endured two bloody civil wars since the turn of the millennium – political conflicts fueled by religious divides that left over 3,000 people dead and more than 500,000 displaced, the BBC reported.

But while war has subsided – and the IMF projects economic growth of over 7 percent per annum for the rest of the decade –this West African nation still faces major challenges, Quartz reported.

For one, nearly half of its population still lives in poverty, CNN reported.

Also, investor confidence was severely shaken last year amid a string of mutinies by Ivorian soldiers.

Following an election dispute in 2010 and the ensuing civil war between loyalist and rebel forces, the military became a mixture of the two factions.

That’s led to some heavy friction – and an army with elements prone to rebel against their government.

There were two separate mutinies in 2017, Quartz reported, and mutinous soldiers rang in the New Year by sparking an uprising in the city of Bouake, a rebellion that quickly spread to the nation’s largest city and economic capital, the coastal outpost of Abidjan.

To pacify the unruly soldiers, the government has resorted to payoffs in the form of early pension handouts – much to the ire of normal Ivorians.

They’ve gotten hit from many sides, African Arguments writes.

A global oversupply of cocoa – which accounts for one-fifth of the Ivorian economy – forced the government to slash prices guaranteed to farmers by 36 percent virtually overnight.

Meanwhile, global climate change has some speculating that swaths of Ivory Coast may soon become uninhabitable for cocoa trees. And unemployment is already rampant. So it’s no wonder that the dream of making the dangerous trip to Europe remains at the back of many young Ivorians’ minds, Euractiv reported.

Even so, there are some sweet spots in Ivory Coast.

As Deutsche Welle reported, Ivorians now belonging to the country’s new middle class are seeking to take the cocoa they’ve been harvesting and actually produce high-end chocolate for the domestic market – a luxury product they hope to export to the rest of the world.

Infrastructure projects are on the rise, too, CNN reported – hopeful notes in an otherwise bittersweet symphony.



Bombs Away

Russian warplanes pounded the last rebel-held province in Syria after the rebels shot down a Sukhoi Su-25 warplane and killed its pilot on Saturday.

Activists and residents said 16 civilians were killed, and schools, hospitals and markets were destroyed in the assault. Meanwhile, a local journalist told Voice of America that 11 people showed signs of having suffered from a chlorine-gas attack on the city of Saraqeb.

Russia characterized the attack as a series of “pinpoint strikes” that were carefully designed to limit civilian casualties.

At a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, Russia and the US clashed over allegations that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chlorine gas over the weekend.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley charged Russia with blocking a UN probe into Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons and preventing a UN statement condemning the supposed weekend attack, Bloomberg reported. Her Russian counterpart called her claims “slander against Russia.”


What’s Love Got To Do With It?

As the African National Congress called him on the carpet to demand he resign, South African President Jacob Zuma insisted he’s done nothing wrong and told his detractors that “the people still love him.”

Zuma told his interlocutors from the party’s National Working Committee that only the National Executive Committee (NEC) had the powers to recall him and offered to present his case to them directly, Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper reported.

The working committee tried to pressure the president by suggesting he could lose a vote of no confidence set for February 22 and by pointing out that an impeachment process could cost him his pension. But he was unmoved, despite an ongoing probe of alleged corruption related to his connections with the powerful Gupta family.

At the end of the debate, the working committee decided to hold an emergency NEC meeting on Wednesday in Cape Town to decide Zuma’s fate – on the eve of his State of the Nation Address.


Bursting the Bubble

South Korean intelligence operatives are looking into the possibility that North Korean hackers were responsible for last month’s theft of about $500 million worth of digital coins from Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc.

Bloomberg quoted an unnamed South Korean lawmaker as saying the spy agency has recognized similarities between the methods used in the theft and previous cyber attacks originating from the North.

Cybersecurity experts say Pyongyang has increasingly used such heists to fund its nuclear weapons program and circumvent international sanctions. South Korean investigators are also looking at Pyongyang for the hack of Seoul-based exchange Youbit, which collapsed in December.

That said, they have little or no hard evidence to connect North Korean hackers to the Coincheck heist – the biggest such theft since the 2014 disappearance of about $470 million worth of Bitcoins from the Mt. Gox exchange.

For unrelated causes, Bitcoin dropped below $7,000 this week – down more than 66% since reaching an all-time high in December.


History’s Mysteries

Where cryptographers and translators have failed, artificial intelligence might have succeeded.

The undecipherable Voynich manuscript, a 15th-century text that has perplexed experts for generations, might have finally been cracked by a team at the University of Alberta, the Canadian Press reported.

The 240-page book is written in an unknown script and includes whimsical illustrations of plants, stars, and bathing women.

Many cryptographers – including experts from Britain’s Bletchley Park, the team that unraveled the Nazis’ Enigma codes – have tackled the text, all to no avail.

But Greg Kondrak, a computer scientist with Alberta’s artificial-intelligence lab, which recently beat professional poker players using complex software, thinks he’s cracked the code.

First, Kondrak and his team translated the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights into 380 languages through statistical procedures and algorithms, achieving 97 percent accuracy.

Using the same procedure on the manuscript, they developed a startling hypothesis: The Voynich text may have been written in coded Hebrew.

Their analysis yielded translations that seem to match the manuscript’s pictographs and indicate it may be a botanical pharmacopeia.

If they’re correct, it could open a new window on other linguistic mysteries, Kondrak says: “There are still ancient scripts that remain undeciphered to this day.”

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