The World Today for August 31, 2018

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The Price of Progress

Campaign season is in full swing in Rwanda as the nation’s more than 7 million registered voters prepare to elect a new parliament in the first week of September.

This being the fourth parliamentary election since the end of Rwanda’s brutal civil war and the 100-day genocide in 1994 that left some 800,000 dead, many are taking the opportunity to reflect on how Rwandan democracy has evolved over the past 25 years.

The nation’s representatives, for example, are becoming younger and more female.

There will be more women than ever before on the ballot this year – 326 out of 521 candidates – making it very likely that an even greater percentage of legislators will be women this time around. Women already make up 64 percent of parliament, one of the highest proportions of female representation in the world, according to UN Women.

There are also bound to be fresh faces in parliament. The average age of candidates hovers between 38 and 42 years old. And the main opposition party in Rwanda, the Democratic Green Party, has its best chance ever to overcome the 5-percent barrier to enter parliament for the first time, wrote Rwanda Today.

“We are confident that, come elections, we shall win some seats,” said Green Party president, Frank Habineza, in an interview with the New Times, a Rwandan daily.

But for all of Rwanda’s strides over the past decade to liberalize its economy, combat corruption, open itself to international diplomacy and become a more democratic and inclusive society, progress can’t be seen everywhere.

The Rwanda Patriotic Front party of longtime President Paul Kagame, in power since 2000, is once again expected to win in a landslide – with a projected 95 percent of votes, reported the Independent, a news magazine based in Uganda.

That should come as no surprise, given the results of last year’s presidential election, in which Kagame swept the race with 99 percent of the vote, Al Jazeera reported.

The US State Department has commended Rwanda on its steps toward democracy. But such lop-sided election results leave US officials “disturbed” by both voting irregularities and the steps taken by the government to disqualify opposition candidates ahead of the election, according to a September 2017 State Department statement.

Such developments were prefaced by Kagame’s push to do away with constitutional term limits in 2015, effectively allowing him to remain in power until 2034.

Though that’s problematic, one Kagame supporter told Al Jazeera’s Up Front program that the president and his party were not corrupt, just extremely popular because of the turnaround the country has seen during his tenure.

In Rwanda, it seems one-party rule and the possibility of an autocrat ruling for life is the price of progress.



The Spy Who Filmed Me

A Cambodian court found Australian filmmaker James Ricketson guilty of espionage and sentenced him to six years in prison for flying a drone over a rally organized by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was later dissolved by the government.

“We are in utter shock at this outcome and that James, an innocent Australian, has been sentenced so harshly. Our family lives this tragedy daily,” his family said in a statement reacting to the verdict, CNN reported. The filmmaker’s lawyer said he would seek a royal pardon, which could take up to a month to be decided.

Cambodia did not specify which country Ricketson – who has made a number of documentaries about Cambodia over some 20 years – was purportedly spying for, or provide any concrete evidence of espionage, his lawyer said. Human Rights Watch said the trial exposed everything that’s wrong with Cambodia’s justice system, citing “ridiculously excessive charges, prosecutors with little or no evidence, and judges carrying out political orders from the government rather than ruling based on what happens in court.”


Old Wine, New Arrest

Ugandan pop star and member of parliament Bobi Wine was arrested for a second time on Thursday as he sought to leave the country for medical treatment just days after a judge granted him bail.

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, was charged with treason last week, following the alleged stoning of President Yoweri Museveni’s convoy. Some 32 more opposition politicians who face related charges were also granted bail, the BBC reported.

The musician-turned-politician has claimed he was tortured during his detention after the presidential convoy was stoned at a campaign rally in the north-western town of Arua. But the army, police and the president himself have disputed those allegations.

Before his arrest, Wine had tweeted a picture of his driver, whom he claimed had been mistakenly shot and killed by police intending to kill the MP. He also campaigned against Museveni’s effort to scrap the age limit for presidential candidates and several more of Museveni’s policies.


United Frontier

Officials in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador are working to develop a coordinated response to the mass exodus of refugees from Venezuela in meetings that could also impact the future of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

On the agenda at meetings being held in all three countries are measures to prevent epidemics, harmonize identification requirements and share the burden of relief, Bloomberg reported.

More than 1.6 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. About the same number of migrants arrived in Europe, mostly fleeing chaos in North Africa and the Middle East, in the same period.

This week, officials from Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil met in Bogota to discuss joint strategies on health care, schooling and employment for migrants. At further meetings in Lima, officials discussed approaching the UN and the Red Cross for greater financial and logistical support.

Meanwhile, Peru and Argentina this month agreed to join Chile, Colombia and Paraguay in accusing Maduro of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.


Blue for the Blues

Stress, anxiety and depression have become part of humanity’s postmodern existence.

But there is a solution to the daily blues.

According to Quartz, researchers and government officials are looking into “blue mind science” – the study of the health benefits of aquatic environments – to help communities in alleviating negative emotions.

“People can experience the benefits of the water whether they’re near the ocean, a lake, river, swimming pool or even listening to the soothing sound of a fountain,” said Wallace Nichols, marine biologist and author of Blue Mind.

Currently, scientists are trying to measure the cognitive and physical effects of proximity to water, discovering that living in coastal areas can lead to a better sense of well-being and positive emotions.

According to Nichols, a “red mind” – an anxious state caused by increased urbanization and technological reliance – can be fixed by a walk on the beach.

“In fact, the mere sight and sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness, increase blood flow to the brain and heart, and induce relaxation,” Nichols added.

If the beach is not possible, a good shower can help as well.

The practice has stood the test of time, with many authors, artists, and intellectuals attesting to the benefits of being near water. Even Albert Einstein is said to have had some of his best ideas while sailing, even though he wasn’t much of a sailor.

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