The World Today for September 11, 2018

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A Pop Star, and Relative Morality

Morality has always been relative. What one person considers profane, another might consider paltry.

These days, Ugandans are putting that notion to the test.

Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity – yes, they have one of those – recently banned the Nyege Nyege music festival, a popular gathering of musicians and artists that draws around 10,000 people to the East African country annually.

“There will be nudity and sexuality done at any time of the hour. There will be open sex,” Lokodo told reporters, adding that the festival would be “close to devil worshipping” and a “celebration and recruitment of young people into homosexuality.”

An outcry over the decision led Uganda’s government to overrule Lokodo and allow the festival go on, Agence France-Presse wrote.

But the incident highlighted what many Ugandans view as the hypocrisy of their leaders.

While officials under President Yoweri Museveni were contemplating shutting down music festivals, they were also allegedly torturing a pop star-turned-opposition member of parliament known by the stage name Bobi Wine, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Museveni’s human-rights record.

Wine’s real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu. Early this month, before he was allowed to fly to the US for medical treatment, Ssentamu claimed that soldiers shot and killed his driver, then apprehended and tortured him for his alleged role in an incident in which a mob threw stones at Museveni’s motorcade.

In a country where homosexuality is illegal and repressed, partly due to the influence of American evangelicals, Ssentamu claimed the soldiers targeted his genitals. He’s been charged with treason and is supposed to show up in court in October.

“They wrapped me in a thick piece of cloth and bundled me into a vehicle,” he told the South Africa’s Independent Online. “Those guys did to me unspeakable things in that vehicle!”

The army denied the accusations. But few ordinary Ugandans appeared to believe those denials.

The juxtaposition of leaders imposing their supposed morality on others while empowering beastly soldiers was too much for Pastor David Mukasa, who took up the issue during a service in his Jehovah Pentecostal Church in the Kampala slum of Kiseny.

“I’m very deeply concerned about the brutal torture inflicted on the people of Uganda including (Bobi Wine),” said Mukasa in the Religion News Service. “This shows how our leaders are merciless and inhumane. We need God to save our country from such leadership.”

International observers took notice too. “Uganda’s Bobi Wine Brings Attention to Museveni’s Repressive Politics,” was the headline of a Council of Foreign Relations blog post.

Museveni, 74 years old, has been in power since 1986. That’s more than enough time for his people to decide whether or not he’s a moralist at heart.



Chinks in the Armor

Candidates from the ruling United Russia party were forced into runoffs in the gubernatorial races in four regions Sunday, signaling that the anger over President Vladimir Putin’s pension reforms could have a more tangible impact than expected.

United Russia candidates trailed Communist and nationalist opponents in two of the races, gaining as little as 32 percent of the votes, even though such elections are usually stage-managed to deliver victories for the Kremlin-backed candidates, Bloomberg reported.

“These elections are a defeat for the authorities,” said Valery Solovei, a political analyst at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, according to the news agency.

For the first time since 2007, United Russia also suffered defeats to the Communists in party-list votes for three regional parliaments. On the other hand, the pro-Putin party won 17 other gubernatorial elections including for mayor of Moscow.

Kirill Rogov, a Moscow-based political analyst, called the results a “bombshell” reminiscent of the 2011 protests over alleged ballot-rigging – the largest anti-government demonstrations of the Putin era.


Abadi Adieu

Violent protests in Basra have all but ended pro-American Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s bid for a second term.

Both his allies and his opponents are blaming him for the unrest, which left 15 people dead and various government offices and other buildings in ruins, the Washington Post reported.

The protests were aimed at Iraq’s entire political class. But Abadi’s rivals for the prime minister’s chair have managed to spin them into calls for his ouster, possibly leaving Washington with limited influence in the formation of the government.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, said Monday he would not back anybody who has already served in a leadership position as the new prime minister (read: Abadi), while politicians from the two main tickets in May’s election called for Abadi to resign.

“Abadi has zero chance at the moment,” a person close to the negotiations for the prime minister’s seat told the paper.

Iraq’s Supreme Court ratified the results of the May 12 parliamentary election in mid-August, leaving the various players 90 days to form a government.


Holding Firm

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday reasserted his commitment to reforming the country’s post-war constitution to loosen restrictions on its military ahead of his Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership vote Sept. 20.

Abe is widely expected to defeat former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba and retain his position as party leader, Reuters reported. That would put him on track to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, due to the LDP coalition’s dominance in parliament.

The constitutional change Abe hopes to submit to parliament this year is a largely symbolic one, adding a reference to the Self-Defense Forces, as Japan’s military is known. Currently, Japan maintains the self-defense force even though Article 9 of the constitution officially bans the country from having a standing army.

Some remain concerned about allowing the SDF to take a more active role outside Japan, however, and could view the revision as the first step down a slippery slope. To make it happen, Abe will need to win the backing of two-thirds of both houses of parliament and a majority in a referendum.


Medieval Gamers

Scottish monks during the medieval period may have been gamers.

Archaeologists recently discovered a disc-shaped gaming board near the Scottish town of Mintlaw that they believe monks used to play a strategy game called Hnefatafl, the Smithsonian reported.

The Norse table game, unlike chess, required players to defend their king by escorting him to one of four refuges on the edges of the board. The game ended when the king safely reached sanctuary or the enemy captured him.

Dating back to the 7th or 8th century, the unusual artifact serves a greater purpose than just fun and games for archaeologists: It might help reveal the location of the lost Monastery of Deer, thought to be in Aberdeenshire, around 30 miles from the excavation site.

The monastery is known as the presumed source of the Book of Deer, one of the earliest texts containing evidence of Scottish Gaelic. The main text of the book, which dates from the 10th century, is in Latin. It also has marginal notes added later in other languages, including Scottish Gaelic.

The Monastery of Deer was abandoned in the 13th century, when monks moved to the nearby Deer Abbey. Historians have been trying to locate the old monastery’s site since 2008.

While some speculate that the new dig site might be the actual monastery, medieval games specialist Mark Hall is skeptical.

“This temptation remains just that until further evidence presents itself to make a valid link between the disc and the date,” said Hall.

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