The World Today for July 20, 2018

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A Crocodile’s Tears

For the first time, Zimbabweans will vote this month on a presidential ballot that does not include ex-president Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe, who turned 94 this year, was ousted from office in November after ruling for 37 years.

The campaign has been more open than past elections. The Globe and Mail noted how opposition politicians were allowed to broadcast their election manifestos, live and uncensored. Voters had never seen such openness. NPR detailed how activists were returning from abroad to build up their country’s democracy.

Don’t think everything is necessarily changing for the better in the southern African country, however.

“The dictator may be gone, but his machinery of repression is alive and well,” wrote Zimbabwean opposition politician and former finance minister Tendai Biti in a Washington Post opinion column.

A military coup brought incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa into office. He was Mugabe’s right-hand man, nicknamed the “crocodile” because of his “ruthless cunning,” according to the Guardian.

Like his mentor, Mnangagwa routinely targets political opponents and dissidents with “state-sponsored intimidation, imprisonment and torture,” Biti claimed. He also alleged that Mnangagwa had massacred ethnic groups, pilfered state assets, and perpetrated other crimes against his people.

That could be one reason behind a bombing on June 23 during a campaign rally where Mnangagwa was speaking. The Guardian ran a striking video of the incident, which state media have described as an assassination attempt. Two people died. More than 40 were injured.

The BBC reported that Mnangagwa has blamed supporters of Grace Mugabe, the ex-president’s wife, for the blast. Before the coup, the former first lady was suspected of wielding too much influence and jockeying to succeed her husband.

But Jonathan Moyo, a former minister of higher education and an ally of Grace Mugabe, tweeted that the explosion looked like an “inside job”. That conclusion is not so crazy, given how such attacks often divert attention from leaders’ human-rights abuses and instill patriotism and support among the undecided.

Mnangagwa’s main rival, Nelson Chamisa, feared the explosion would give the president cover to steal the election.

“We know that they would also want to use that as a pretext to clamp down on the opposition, they would want to use it to start targeting certain individuals, certain candidates that they perceive to be their credible opposition,” Chamisa told Reuters.

Mnangagwa is walking a fine line. He’s likely to win. He’s also inclined to crack down on dissent. But he needs the election to run smoothly if he wants to prove to the world that Zimbabwe is no longer a dictatorship and deserves foreign investment.

For the sake of his constituents, many hope he understands that.



In Bad Company

North Korea is the world’s worst offender when it comes to modern-day slavery. But the phenomenon is also surprisingly prevalent in “highly developed, high-income countries,” according to the latest report from the Walk Free Foundation – which has tracked slavery worldwide since 2013.

Some 2.6 million forced laborers – or one out of 10 citizens – in North Korea are effectively slaves, the New York Daily News cited the 2018 Global Index Survey as saying. Such government-imposed labor is also common in Eritrea and Burundi, which come in second and third on the list.

Based on 71,000 interviews in 48 countries, the report estimated that some 40.3 million people – including 15 million in forced marriages – were living under modern slavery in 2016. The top 10 worst offenders indicated a link between slavery and repressive political regimes. But Walk Free also estimated that in the United States 403,000 people – or 1 in every 800 – are living in modern slavery, seven-times higher than it previously believed, CNN reported.


Breaking Away

The European Commission referred to the European Court of Justice its dispute with Hungary over its so-called “Stop Soros” law – which mandates prison sentences for anyone “facilitating illegal immigration.”

On Thursday, the Commission said the law curtailed asylum applicants’ right to turn to national, international and non-governmental organizations for help, the BBC reported. It began the infringement proceeding because the new legislation broke EU rules, the Commission added.

Another point of contention is Hungary’s returning of asylum seekers to other countries or detaining them on its border with Serbia.

In a parallel development, Hungary said this week it is withdrawing from a United Nations global pact on migration because it is “in conflict with common sense and also with the intent to restore European security.” It’s the second country to withdraw from the pact after the US, which pulled out of talks in December, noted Fox News.

The agreement, officially called the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration,” was finalized Friday.


Making It Official

Israel’s right-wing coalition government pushed through a law Thursday declaring the country to be the “nation-state of the Jewish people” – a designation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long sought to make official.

While Netanyahu declared the passage of the law to mark an important historical moment, his more liberal opponents denounced it as racist and anti-democratic, the New York Times reported.

The legislation is a so-called “basic law,” which means it has the weight of a constitutional amendment, the paper said. Its critics are particularly rankled because it omits any mention of democracy or the principle of equality, regardless of religion – values enshrined in the country’s 1948 Declaration of Independence.

Apart from the official designation, the law promotes the development of Jewish communities, which could lead to discriminatory land-allocation policies. And it downgrades Arabic from an official language to one with a “special status.”

Its passage demonstrated the increasing power of ultranationalists in Israel’s government, the paper said.


When Spiders Fly…

It’s good that the phrase “when pigs fly” has never been used in the context of spiders – because contrary to popular belief, spiders actually can fly.

Through a process called “ballooning,” spiders spray strands of their silk into the air to take flight, usually to flee to safety, find a mate or seek food, the New York Times reported.

But the world now has a better grasp on just how spiders fly, thanks to the research of Moonsung Cho and colleagues with the Technical University of Berlin.

Through a series of observational and formal lab studies using a wind tunnel, Cho and his team found that spiders often prefer mild breezes and that their ballooning webs can reach up to six feet long, allowing them to travel up to heights of a mile or two – and even across oceans.

But it’s not the breeze that keeps spiders in flight. Rather, it is the “stickiness of their thread,” said James Gorman with the Times in this explanatory video on the phenomenon.

Spider silk is so thin that it latches onto the air as if it were something more viscous like syrup, allowing the floating arachnids to stay airborne and travel with the wind.

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