The World Today for April 12, 2018



A New Day in an Old Country

Ethiopia’s economic growth has been miraculous, according to Quartz.

In 2000, the nation’s per capita gross domestic product was only $650 and it had one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Today, it has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and poverty has been reduced by one-third, according to the World Bank.

But as many other booming countries have experienced, prosperity often exposes long-simmering social and cultural tensions that poverty helped suppress.

In February, protests erupted over plans to expand the boundaries of Addis Ababa, the fast-growing capital. That angered local farmers in the Oromo region who feared the government would confiscate their land, Al Jazeera wrote.

But the protests expanded to include calls for more rights for the Oromo, an ethnic group who make up more than a third of Ethiopia’s population but feel shut out from the country’s ruling class. Those and other protests over the past year have resulted in hundreds of deaths, human-rights groups said.

Eventually, in February, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that he would step down. But at the same time, the government declared a state of emergency, limiting press freedoms and other civil rights.

Now it’s up to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was sworn in April 2, to clean up the mess.

“This is the season in which we learn from our mistakes and compensate our country,” said Ahmed in his first speech in office, Foreign Policy reported. “I ask forgiveness from those activists and politicians who paid the sacrifice and youths who wanted change but lost their lives.”

He’s off to a good start. Ahmed is Oromo, the Washington Post explained. With one deft move, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front addressed one of the protesters’ primary concerns. And this week, he was met by thousands of cheering locals Wednesday when he visited Ambo, a town at the heart of protests and clashes with security forces since 2015, Reuters reported.

Apart from being Oromo, there are other ways Ahmed reflects his country. His father was Muslim. His mother was Christian. He’s also a former military man who rose up in the ranks – in part because he learned Tigrinya, the language of the ethnic group that comprises the Ethiopian elite. He’s also 41, making him the youngest leader in Africa, a continent where aging strongmen often cling to power long after they’ve worn out their welcome.

Opposition leader Merara Gudina sounded a note of hope as Ahmed assumed power.

“It goes without saying that a change in personalities within the leadership may bring changes in terms of bringing better ideas that may ultimately lead to national reconciliation,” Gudina told the Associated Press.

The word “ultimately” is key here. Between Ethiopia’s economic growth and the goodwill he’s generated so far, however, Ahmed is in a rare position to transform his country for the better.

Many hope that day will come. If not, they will hit the streets.

“We are free,” Salem Gebre, 30, a street hawker who has led protests in the capital, told the Washington Times.  “We are demanding our rights…(and) we will continue to demonstrate until the government listens to us…. We are not going to be intimidated.”



Summit Subs

Neither US President Donald Trump nor Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will attend the Summit of the Americas in Lima this week – in a development that pundits say speaks volumes about Trump’s frustration with the region and the rudderless nature of the event.

Trump cited more pressing concerns in Syria for his absence and Maduro was disinvited. Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Vice President Mike Pence will step in to fill the void April 13-14.

But Trump’s absence means the meeting is less likely to overcome differences related to trade and immigration, or to come up with a coherent strategy for dealing with Venezuela, Peter Hakim and Michael Shifter opined in the New York Times.

Interestingly, Trump becomes the first US president to skip the summit at a time when attending might well suit his deal-making agenda, Alvaro Vargas Llosa argues in the Hill. The decline of the Latin American left offers an opportunity to bring the meeting back to its original focus – creating the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas, he writes.


Drilling Down

New Zealand surprised the oil and gas industry by announcing Thursday it would not grant any new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration.

The Labour-led government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said firms that hold the country’s 22 existing exploration permits could still be allowed to develop any discoveries associated with those licenses for up to 40 years, Reuters reported.

“We’re striking the right balance for New Zealand – we’re protecting existing industry, and protecting future generations from climate change,” said Ardern, whose campaign stressed action against global warming.

The government will continue granting permits for searching for onshore oil and gas reserves.

Cameron Madgwick, chief executive of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (Pepanz), said the move would result in job losses and do nothing to fight climate change, as New Zealand would simply have to import petroleum at a higher cost.


Dollars and Sense

As widespread panic threatens to cause a collapse in its currency, Iran is scrambling for solutions – and pointing fingers.

“Enemies outside of our borders, in various different guises, are fueling this issue and are going to some effort to make conditions tougher for the people,” Bloomberg quoted central bank Governor Valiollah Seif as saying Tuesday. Officials in President Hassan Rouhani’s government say his conservative opponents are fueling the plunge to discredit his administration.

Rouhani won office on a pledge to resuscitate an economy hampered by international sanctions, and succeeded in stabilizing the rial before inking the nuclear deal that allowed Iran back into the global economy. But the returns have been slow to materialize, and now the nuclear deal is under threat.

The rial plunged 35 percent earlier this week, prompting the government to mandate an official rate of 42,000 rials to the dollar and send riot police into the bazaars to arrest black-market money-changers on Wednesday, the New York Times reported.


From Rice to Pate

As the European Union prepares to ban more and more types of pesticides, one French rice farmer has borrowed a sustainable method from Japan to protect his crops from invasive weeds: ducks.

The holistic method known as “aigamo” floods fields with ducks, which feed on the insects and weeds that would normally damage the rice plant – all without touching the plant itself.

“My eldest son went to Japan and when he came back he said: ‘Dad, I saw something brilliant!'” Bernard Poujol, a farmer in the Camargue region of southern France, told the BBC.

Though the method may seem like the perfect solution, there are setbacks.

After a year of gluttonous labor, the fattened ducks, once as light as a feather, can crush the delicate rice plants.

Poujol’s solution to the problem is simple and very French: Replace the plump ducks with skinnier ones, and turn the retired birds into delicious pate.

It’s a method he’s constantly tweaking, Poujol told the BBC. This year, for example, he’ll be using the Indian Runner duck, whose high metabolism promises a longer work season before being spread on a piece of baguette.

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