The World Today for July 27, 2018

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Guns and Butter

More than five years ago, French soldiers defeated Islamic militants in Mali, paving the way for the central government in Bamako to reassert control over the country.

But as Malians prepare for a presidential vote on Sunday, the jihadist threat remains real and violence along communal lines is metastasizing.

Jihadists have killed almost 300 people in the landlocked West African nation this year. Most of the deaths were related to fighting between Dozos, or traditional hunters, Dogon and Bambara farmers, and Fulani herders who are vying for the same land for water and grazing, reported Agence France-Presse, citing United Nations figures.

Al Jazeera noted that the Al Qaeda-affiliated Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, which has ties to the Fulani community, is among those perpetrating the violence. That group has been recruiting Malians and using the country as a launching pad for incursions into Burkina Faso and Niger, too.

On July 16, for example, gunmen killed 14 people in Menaka, a village in eastern Mali near the border with Niger. “The assailants came and opened fire on people,” Mayor Nanou Kotia told Reuters. “One truck and three other vehicles were burned.”

Attacks near the same village in April and May resulted in 50 deaths.

Worryingly, the attacks come despite the presence of troops from France, the US, the UN and a coalition that includes Mali and four neighboring countries. Rather than curbing the violence, these troops have themselves been targeted by jihadists, the Local explained.

Malian troops have also alienated local populations by cracking down on jihadists, wrote Caleb Weiss in FDD’s Long War Journal, a blog published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. That’s not good news.

“Jihadists can also exploit anti-government or anti-French sentiments which have been further exacerbated by the eye-for-an-eye killings which continue to take place in the Menaka region,” Weiss argued.

As for Sunday’s election, Britain-based online news platform African Arguments predicted low voter turnout and triumph for incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, or “IBK” as he is called, resulting in little change.

The website pointed out how a French profile of IBK depicted him as a “‘do-nothing king,’ a bright but vain figure who sleeps in late, keeps dubious company, and makes fine speeches while assiduously avoiding decisive action.”

But IBK must do something. The UN has sounded alarms over 1 million people in Mali who need emergency food aid and 4.3 million people who face food insecurity this summer and early fall, Africanews reported.

Earth to IBK: Governing is often described as a choice between guns and butter. Mali needs both.



Counting the Dead

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has been quietly acknowledging the deaths in custody of hundreds if not thousands of prisoners in what analysts say signals he is confident enough he will win the war and remain in power that he doesn’t fear repercussions.

“The regime is closing one chapter and starting a new one,” the New York Times quoted Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, as saying. “It is telling the rebels and the activists that this chapter is gone, that whatever hope in some surviving revolutionary spirit has been crushed.”

In some instances, the government has posted names of the deceased. In others, families have sought and received documents acknowledging their relatives’ deaths, and in some cases security officers have informed families personally. Many of these documents show that the deaths occurred years ago.

Since the beginning of an uprising against Assad that evolved into the ongoing civil war, human rights workers say tens of thousands of rebels and political protesters have been jailed.


Sticky Wicket

First cricket star, then tabloid playboy, and then pious Muslim, Imran Khan is now all-but-certain to become prime minister of Pakistan.

It remains to be seen if his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party will earn enough seats in the National Assembly to win an outright majority, CNN reported.

But with 119 out of 272 already secured, Khan was certain enough he’d at least manage a coalition government that he delivered a victory speech Thursday promising to root out corruption and calling for closer ties with India and China.

His opponents have leveled charges of vote rigging, and in the lead-up to the polls, journalists and other observers accused Pakistan’s powerful military of putting its thumb on the scales. That’s not likely to stop Khan from taking office, but it could result in potentially violent street protests by supporters of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).

It’s not clear what the victory will mean for India or the US – and that could change depending on whether or not Khan wins a clear majority. But many are pessimistic.


Do the Math

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Wednesday he plans to knock five zeroes off the country’s currency rather than the three he’d announced earlier, causing widespread consternation.

Following a dire warning from the International Monetary Fund that inflation is likely to hit 1 million percent in Venezuela by the end of the year, the more aggressive “redenomination” confused residents, as it would not leave small enough currency to pay for things like public transport and mobile phone top-ups, Reuters reported.

It’s also unclear when the new bills will arrive, and how long it will take banks to adjust their cash machines and other systems to the new notes, though Maduro set a deadline of Aug. 20. India’s larger size presents a bigger logistical challenge, but its banking system took several months to return to normal following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden cancellation of 500 and 1000 rupee notes in 2016.


The Long Trek

Even after 30 years, humans are still prohibited from living in the so-called “exclusion zone” around the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.

Consequently, the lack of human presence has helped the local wildlife thrive, with the European gray wolf population increasing in numbers, LiveScience reported.

Researchers, however, wondered that the dense numbers could eventually lead the wolves to disperse, spreading their mutations to neighboring areas and species.

In a study published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, scientists tracked 14 gray wolves living in the exclusion zone – 13 adults over 2 years and one young male 1 to 2 years old – by using GPS collars to record their movements.

“No wolves there were glowing — they all have four legs, two eyes and one tail,” lead author Michael Byrne said.

While all the adults didn’t go beyond their territory, the brave young one went on a journey nearly 230 miles away from the exclusion zone.

It was the first time that scientists recorded movement outside the zone, theorizing that other animals might be doing the same.

Scientists can’t verify that mutations are spreading. But they hope that future studies might do so.

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