The World Today for February 26, 2018



Chain Reaction

It’s been a tough few weeks for Miguna Miguna – and for Kenya.

The 55-year-old Kenyan lawyer has always been a staunch critic of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Even so, his visibility was heightened after last summer’s presidential elections were declared illegitimate by the nation’s Supreme Court, throwing East Africa’s most prosperous nation into political turmoil.

Violence ensued, and the Supreme Court promptly ordered a rerun. However, opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected that attempted solution and boycotted the second election in the fall, leaving Kenyatta to win unopposed with 98 percent of the vote.

On January 30, with Miguna assisting, Odinga declared himself president in front of tens of thousands of onlookers at a mock swearing-in ceremony.

The ceremony held no legitimacy, NPR reported, and was clearly a ploy to challenge the authority of Kenyatta, whose executive powers have been constrained by the slew of revisions made to Kenya’s constitution in 2010.

The chain reaction that ensued was swift.

The government pulled the plug on the nation’s largest broadcasters for covering the event, starting a media blackout that lasted a week and “turned a non-event with no legal or political significance into an international issue,” one diplomat told the Financial Times.

Several TV stations remained dark for days, despite a court demanding they be reopened. Larry Madowo, an anchor with NTV Kenya, wrote for CNN that he and others were forced to spend the night in their station’s newsroom as security forces blocked the building’s exits.

Miguna faced a more permanent fate.

He was promptly charged with treason for participating in Odinga’s symbolic swearing-in. Then he was kicked out of the country.

Miguna held dual Canadian and Kenyan citizenship, but the government declared the latter invalid, despite rules in the new constitution that bar those born in Kenya from being denied citizenship, Deutsche Welle reported.

He’s already been deported back to Canada.

Now, many fear that the events of recent weeks are warning signs of something much more sinister at play in a nation once revered for its democratic strides.

“In the space of just one week, a Kenyan government that proclaims itself a rule-of-law government has repeatedly defied nearly a dozen court orders in an alarming descent toward authoritarianism,” Madowo opined in a separate piece for the Washington Post.

Many are concerned that such a troubling chain reaction in a regional leader like Kenya might spark a similar one elsewhere in East Africa, the New Yorker reported.

“Kenya is one of the beacons for media freedom on our continent and the world and should be a leader in terms of democratic governance and respect for fundamental human rights,” said Angela Quintal, the Africa coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Its leadership role in the region is now being compromised.”



Closing Babygate

Australia’s National Party named former newspaper editor Michael McCormack to replace Barnaby Joyce as party leader and deputy prime minister in a bid to put an end to an embarrassing sex scandal that has threatened to fracture the ruling coalition.

The junior partner in the coalition with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s center-right Liberal Party, the rural-based Nationals selected McCormack in a party-room ballot, Reuters reported. After revealing that he is expecting a child with a former staff member and has separated from his wife of 24 years, Joyce finally resigned Friday following weeks of pressure to quit.

The incident had threatened to split the coalition, as Turnbull had sought to distance himself from Joyce through an official ban on sex with staff members that Joyce characterized as “inept” since it only stoked media enthusiasm for the story.

Analysts say McCormack’s low profile may be a weakness for the Nationals going into elections slated for May 2019.


Symbolic Unity

Russia’s various opposition groups united briefly to commemorate murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov on Sunday, but analysts say the temporary alliance was only symbolic and the opposition has no real strategy for defeating President Vladimir Putin in upcoming elections.

“The march is symbolically important for the entire democratic opposition,” one of the march’s organizers, Moscow municipal deputy Ilya Yashin, told The Moscow Times.

On Feb. 27, 2015, Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, was shot in the back while crossing the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge in Moscow. Many believe his killing was orchestrated by the Chechen leadership with the tacit support of the Kremlin, and Sunday’s marchers carried signs and chanted slogans that blamed both Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, for the murder.

A month ago, Alexei Navalny, who many consider the only real opposition leader, called for a boycott of the March 18 vote after he was barred from contesting.

“By keeping Navalny out of this election, they’ve turned him into more of a dissident than a political leader. And as a dissident, he loses his power,” said political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.


Unexpected Reversal

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban suffered an unexpected reversal on Sunday, when his ruling Fidesz party lost a local mayoral race just weeks before national polls.

Surprisingly, preliminary results showed Peter Marki-Zay, a political novice, trounced Fidesz candidate Zoltan Hegedus 57.5 percent to 41.6 percent in the race for mayor of the southern town of Hodmezovasarhely, a Fidesz party stronghold, Reuters reported.

The rightwing, nationalist Fidesz is tipped to win the April 8 election, but Reuters cited a local political analyst as saying the local victory could energize the opposition.

“This (result) has a sweeping psychological significance,” said Robert Laszlo, a political analyst at think tank Political Capital. “It shows that Fidesz is beatable even in a place like this and the result could jolt opposition parties into action and rethinking their strategies.”

Notably, though Orban has been campaigning on a fierce anti-immigrant message, the right-wing Jobbik party aligned with the opposition Socialists as well as LMP, a small liberal party, to back Marki-Zay.


Gone Swimming

Swimming in freezing cold water wouldn’t sound appealing to most, but one triathlete found it provided instant relief from his chronic pain.

After a successful surgery on his chest left him with chronic pain, and conventional treatments yielded no results, the 28-year-old athlete plunged into icy waters in a last-ditch attempt at relief.

“Once I was in the water, I had tunnel vision – for the first time in months, I completely forgot about the pain or the fear of shooting pains in my chest if I moved,” he told doctors conducting a study on his condition, which was recently detailed in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

Researchers believe this is the first documented case in which a shock of cold water resulted in the complete alleviation of a patient’s pain, though cold-water baths have been previously used to ease discomfort in athletes, the BBC reported.

There could be various explanations for the patient’s recovery – some say the sudden shock and his fear of drowning could have induced nervous system activity to the point of altered pain perception, for example.

Regardless, report author Tom Mole of the University of Cambridge told the BBC he hopes that it “gives new hope to people recovering from pain after surgery.”

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