The World Today for February 13, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

SOUTH AFRICA

Drying Up

Due to the worst drought in over a century, rapid climate change and a swelling population, Cape Town is expected to run out of water in less than three months, USA Today reported.

At the same time, people across South Africa are speculating about the future of their country as President Jacob Zuma’s well of political influence dries up, too.

On Tuesday morning, after a marathon overnight meeting, the ANC decided the president should quit, the Associated Press reported. So far, he has refused. If he continues to resist, the party could tell its lawmakers to use their majority in parliament to vote him out of office.

Zuma gave in to judicial pressure last month and announced that an investigation would be opened into his role in the powerful Gupta brothers’ alleged influence peddling, Reuters reported.

The wealthy Guptas are accused of having doled out government posts to those who could bend state decisions in favor of their business practices, and the judicial inquiry will evaluate whether the Guptas may have received special treatment over a coal business linked to one of Zuma’s sons, wrote Bloomberg.

Zuma is already accused of hundreds of counts of corruption. He and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.

Even so, Zuma’s giving in to external pressures is enough to signal he’s on the outs.

That was only confirmed by his party’s recent election of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC. Ramaphosa vowed to spearhead the fight against corruption during his inaugural speech in December, AFP reported.

Leaders’ actions “should always be a source of pride and not a cause for embarrassment,” he said – a statement that was quickly interpreted as a snub to Zuma.

With two spheres of power within the ANC, analysts say Ramaphosa quickly needs to deal with Zuma if his party wants to keep its absolute majority in parliament come election time next year.

Pressure is on for Zuma to resign, and it’s likely he will before he’s termed out in 2019, Bloomberg reported. The trick is to do so without uprooting Zuma’s vast network of supporters, which could crumble South Africa’s fragile political system and economy.

“If you have to remove him, you have to dismantle a very complex system (and) that cannot be done overnight,” said Ralph Mathekga, an independent political analyst based in Johannesburg. “Ramaphosa is being diplomatic and rightfully so. He cannot come out in public and say that there are plans to remove Zuma.”

But such speculation has actually boosted Ramaphosa’s – and the economy’s – standing, CNBC reported: Markets reacted positively after Ramaphosa’s election to party chair, and the politically sensitive rand grows nominally stronger every time there’s a rumor of Zuma’s ouster.

Even so, cantankerous external factors rocking stability in South Africa – aside from water issues, electricity can be scarce and unemployment is high – could be exacerbated if Zuma leaves in a messy manner.

“South Africa is approaching rough waters, and a Jacob Zuma facing an inglorious and humiliating end to his presidency will be a Jacob Zuma at his most dangerous,” Roger Southall wrote for the Conversation.

Meanwhile, what happens in South Africa matters, says the Financial Times.

“In the post-apartheid era, South Africa became the informal spokesman for a continent,” it wrote. “The drama of South Africa’s recent history and the sophistication of its economy means that it inevitably has become a standard-bearer for Africa.”

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Footing the Bill

Britain’s eventual exit from the bloc will leave the European Union with a budget gap of around 15 billion euros a year – prompting some brainstorming on how to plug the hole.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has called on the remaining 27 members to pony up a bit more, which would likely require lifting a present spending cap linked to gross national income, the Irish Independent newspaper reported.

Other ideas include ending the practice of rebating some of the fees paid by members, enacting an EU-wide tax on plastic bags, taking over the revenue from the EU’s Emissions Trading System or raiding the coffers of the upcoming border system.

Beginning in 2020, the bloc will collect a fee of 5 euros from non-EU nationals from countries that do not need visas to travel to the EU, and that sum is likely to be increased to 7 euros in the near future.

Charging the UK for continued access to the common market is also a possibility.

CHINA

Scaring the Monkeys

The bad guys are hard to catch, which is why a Chinese proverb suggests “killing a chicken to scare the monkeys.”

This week, the government moved one step closer to making such an example out of one-time political star Sun Zhengcai, announcing that he would stand trial for bribery.

Bloomberg quoted Chinese state media as saying Sun would be tried in the northern city of Tianjin in the climax to a precipitous fall from grace under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

At one point, Sun was poised to advance to a top post in the government after 2022. But he was abruptly removed as party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing in July and soon expelled from the Communist Party.

More broadly, Xi’s anti-corruption drive has led to investigations into hundreds of thousands of Chinese officials, NPR reported. Necessary to cool rising public anger, the crusade has also allowed Xi to eliminate key members of rival factions within China’s Communist Party.

BRAZIL

This Way to the Red Carpet

Brazil won’t close its border to Venezuelan refugees, but it has launched a task force to manage the influx and provide resources for cities and states to cope with the migrants.

In the city of Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima, the local government said such refugees already account for 10 percent of the population, or around 40,000 people, creating a humanitarian crisis, Reuters reported.

Brazilian President Michel Temer visited Boa Vista Monday and promised to provide Roraima with federal funds and also look into relocating some of the refugees to other states.

The visit came after a Brazilian man set fire to a house where dozens of Venezuelans were living last week. Due to widespread shortages of food and essentials in Venezuela, thousands have fled across the border to Brazil – some of them walking hundreds of miles.

Earlier both Colombia and Brazil tightened border security in response to the Venezuelan exodus.

DISCOVERIES

First Words

A killer whale in a French marine park is thought to be the first of her species with the ability to mimic human speech, the BBC recently reported.

At the behest of her trainer, the orca named Wikie at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France, was taught to “speak” human words through her blowhole, including the name Amy and the numbers one, two and three.

Wikie isn’t too articulate – her “speech” is merely an imitation of human intonation using whistles and raspberries.

But that skill alone has researchers intrigued.

Dolphins and beluga whales are among the few mammals that can imitate sounds, copying one another or other animals. Birds such as parrots and members of the crow family can also mimic human speech.

“In mammals it is very rare,” said Josep Call of the University of St. Andrews. “Interestingly, the mammals that can do (it) best are marine mammals.”

With the new find, scientists now believe vocal imitation may be a plausible explanation for killer whales’ dialects, the unique vocalizations known to exist among cohabitating groups of the species.

Click here to see Wikie’s first “words.”

 

 

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