The World Today for April 25, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

SIERRA LEONE

Deep Dive

Sierra Leone recently swore in newly elected President Julius Maada Bio, a retired military commander and leader of the nation’s opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, who won 51.8 percent of the vote in a March 31 runoff.

Observers hailed Bio’s victory, saying his transition from coup leader to democratically elected official signals a promising transformation in Sierra Leone and across Africa. Instead of wielding guns, politicians are vying for votes to settle political conflicts, the New York Times reported.

That wasn’t always the case.

Bio led the country for three months in 1996 after coups that overthrew two successive presidents known for corruption and missteps in the nation’s quagmire of a civil war. Rooted in ethnic tensions and prone to proxy intervention, the conflict claimed some 50,000 lives between 1991 and 2002, the Times wrote.

But instead of tightening his grip on power – as so many other strongmen on the continent have done – Bio handed over the reins to a civilian government and emigrated to the United States, where he studied international affairs, the Wall Street Journal reported. He’s also pursuing a Ph.D. in peace studies at the University of Bradford, in England.

For all the goodwill and conflict resolution Bio hopes to bring to the post, he faces an uphill battle in helping Sierra Leone stare down the ethnic tensions that still plague the country.

Political parties are still separated along ethnic lines, France 24 wrote, and Bio’s upset victory ended the decade-long rule of the All People’s Congress party (APC). That sparked post-election violence that displaced some civilians, the BBC reported. The APC has contested the election results in court, according to the Nigerian newspaper PM News. And political gridlock prevented the parliament from electing a speaker early this week, according to Africanews.com.

If those challenges weren’t enough, various natural disasters and the Ebola crisis have ravaged Sierra Leone’s economy in recent years. It contracted by 20 percent in 2015 alone, the Wall Street Journal wrote.

Rich in diamonds, iron and other natural resources, Sierra Leone once had one of the most dynamic economies in Africa. But persistent crises combined with corruption now make it one of the poorest nations on the planet.

Bio is already diving into the deep end, Africa News reported. Just days after his inauguration, he’s issued a series of decrees to rein in the public sector, mandate weekly cleaning sessions to stave off the spread of disease and halt lavish government parties.

Citizens told Euronews that they remain hopeful that Bio can make progress in the country for the first time in over a decade. But treacherous waters of situations past and present may force him to come up for air sooner than he planned.

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

Powers that Be

China’s #MeToo movement is exposing new fault lines in the country’s traditional response to dissent as victims of a backlash draw widespread public sympathy.

Case in point: A blog post by one of the authors of an open letter calling for Peking University to make public its investigation into a decades-old alleged rape and suicide swiftly went viral this week, Reuters reported. In the post, the author had accused the administration of making veiled threats over whether she would be allowed to graduate.

Yue Xin said a university counselor roused her in the early hours Monday to demand that she delete her posts and notes related to the case, as well as sign a pledge that she would not pursue the matter further. University officials had summoned her mother to exert pressure on her earlier Sunday night, Yue said in the blog post.

Yue’s original petition concerned a former professor accused of raping and sexual harassing a student in 1998. Allegations that the victim was driven to suicide as a result have prompted similar reports of sexual harassment at other universities.

FINLAND

Befits Denied

Finland has decided to scrap Europe’s first national, government-backed experiment with basic income, which has been running in a pilot program since January 2017.

The government turned down a request from Kela, the Finnish social security agency, for additional funds to add a group of employees to the pilot, which granted a random sample of 2,000 unemployed people a monthly stipend of 560 euros (about $683), the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported. It also said payments to the current participants will end next January.

Interestingly, the elimination of the program isn’t Finland’s only move toward tough love. It has also introduced legislation making some unemployment benefits contingent on the recipients undergoing skills training or working at least 18 hours out of every three months, the paper said.

The experiment was intended to determine if a guaranteed basic income might actually encourage people to seek work by providing a basic level of security. But it was neither long enough nor comprehensive enough to shed much light on how such a scheme might work in reality, analysts said.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia is hoping to earn 35-40 billion riyals ($9-$11 billion) and create 12,000 jobs outside the oil business by 2020 from 14 public-private partnership investments.

The scheme includes the corporatization of the country’s ports and privatizing the production sector of the Saudi Saline Water Conversion Corp and the Ras Al Khair desalinization and power plant, Reuters cited the official Saudi news agency as saying.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia said King Salman will launch the construction of a so-called “entertainment city” near Riyadh as part of the country’s effort to diversify its economy. Billed as a rival to Disneyworld, the project is slated to include high-end theme parks, motorsport facilities and a safari park, according to Agence France-Presse.

The kingdom has also unveiled plans for a mega project billed as a regional Silicon Valley and a reef-fringed resort destination, both worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

On the other hand, its plan to erase its budget deficit by 2023 relies on a big surge in oil revenue – to 605 billion riyals, or around $161 billion, by 2020, Bloomberg reported.

DISCOVERIES

Boom Clap

Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” provides the dramatic musical background for Francis Ford Coppola’s intense helicopter-attack scene in the anti-war drama “Apocalypse Now.”

But the booming brass sounds of the opera that contains that classic piece also put an end to one musician’s career, Britain’s High Court recently ruled.

Violist Christopher Goldscheider sued his employer, London’s Royal Opera House, after a 2012 rehearsal of Wagner’s “The Valkyrie” left him with irreversible hearing damage, CNN reported.

Goldscheider’s $1.05 million lawsuit, filed in 2016, claims that despite wearing earplugs he suffered “acoustic shock” after being exposed to noise levels reaching 137 decibels while rehearsing the opera in an enclosed space. That’s the noise level of a military jet taking off, CNN wrote.

The Royal Opera House previously stated that Goldscheider suffered from Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear disorder, but Justice Nicola Davies dismissed the view.

“I regard the defendant’s contention that Meniere’s disease developed at the rehearsal as stretching the concept of coincidence too far,” she wrote in her judgment.

The ruling marks the first time that “acoustic shock” has been recognized by a British court as worthy of compensation, the BBC wrote.

“This case has significance and will send shockwaves across the Music Business,” Goldscheider’s solicitor, Chris Fry, aptly said in a blog post.

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