The World Today for September 26, 2018

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Same Song, Different Refrain?

The government and rebel factions in South Sudan signed an agreement to end the East African nation’s civil war this month.

The peace deal, inked in the capital of Ethiopia, was supposed to end a conflict that has killed at least 50,000 people, displaced two million, and ruined South Sudan’s economy, reported Reuters. The civil war started in 2011, two years after the country declared its independence from Sudan.

Some observers were skeptical of the new pact’s chances. President Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar, who leads the main rebel group, signed a peace deal in 2015 that fizzled.

But many are hoping for the best. “The most recent peace agreement finally offers hope for a formal and final end to the multiyear conflict in South Sudan,” opined Deutsche Welle correspondent Waakhe Simon Wudu, who related how members of his family have lived in a refugee camp for two years to escape violence.

Even so, new fighting broke out within days of the signing, after Kiir attempted to install local government officials in rebel-controlled areas, Voice of America reported.

The flare-ups reflected shortcomings in the peace deal identified in a report by the Enough Project, a human-rights advocacy group. Rather than seeking to cultivate peace to improve the lives of the South Sudanese people through infrastructure, the rule of law, social services, political transparency and other benefits, the report said, Kiir and Machar were more interested in divvying up the country’s resources as spoils.

“Fundamentally, this is a governance challenge, rooted in a political culture that views state resources as spoils, their value accruable to the elite alone,” the Enough team stated.

In that vein, a recent Amnesty International report highlighted the depth of the government’s depravity vis-à-vis its citizens.

During an offensive earlier this year, “civilians were burnt alive, hanged in trees and run over with armored vehicles in opposition-held areas in Unity State, while children were swung into tree trunks to kill them,” wrote the Independent, citing Amnesty’s report.

Kiir’s government has not responded but often dismisses such reports as “rubbish.”

The Associated Press corroborated Amnesty’s work by interviewing civilians in rebel-held areas. “They raped women, killed old people and took young boys,” Nyabieli Gai, a 50-year-old grandmother, told the news agency.

The cycle of making and breaking peace deals is happening largely because countries like Sudan and Uganda, which are guarantors of the peace accord, don’t appear ready to do much to enforce the deal.

“The parties to the conflict have concluded there is little cost to breaking the agreements and they are right,” Alan Boswell, a Geneva-based South Sudan analyst, told the AP.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The same may apply to South Sudan. But doing nothing at all is just as crazy.



From Russia, With Love

Russia will provide the Syrian military with its S-300 air defense missiles in a blow to Israel that US National Security Adviser John Bolton decried as “a significant escalation.”

Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry said Israel was “solely” to blame for the downing of a Russian IL-20 aircraft last week, though the plane was inadvertently shot down by Syrian forces during an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian coastal province of Latakia, CNN reported.

Russia said the Israeli attackers maneuvered to use the Russian plane as a shield against Syria’s anti-aircraft system and accused Israel of providing misleading information about the airstrike over a military hotline designed to prevent such incidents.

Israel has denied those accusations. But the pending delivery of the new missiles signals that Moscow is no longer listening. More accurate than Syria’s present defense system, the missiles will make it easier to avoid hitting Russian planes and also more difficult for Israel to strike Iranian forces within Syria.


Friends in High Places

The US levied sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle, targeting the controversial leader’s wife, defense minister, vice president and other allies.

The sanctions were announced as President Trump decried the Venezuelan leader before the United Nations General Assembly, blaming him for the country’s disastrous economy and human rights violations while slipping in a dig against his leftist ideology.

“All nations of the world should resist socialism and the misery that it brings to everyone,” Trump said, according to the Washington Post. “In that spirit, we ask the nations gathered here to join us in calling for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions are designed to further weaken Maduro’s grip on power. However, to some degree, the Trump administration’s interest in ousting the leftist leader has backfired, as incidents like a meeting to discuss a possible coup attempt have helped Maduro to present himself as the victim of foreign plotters.

“If you want to attack, attack me, but don’t mess with my family,” Maduro said in a televised address after the latest sanctions. “Don’t be cowards.”


Falling Out of Lofven

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven will step down after losing a parliamentary no-confidence vote by a margin of 204 to 142.

His ouster signals the ascendancy of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD), which backed the vote to remove the center-left leader following a general election that delivered a hung parliament, the BBC reported.

Center-right leader Ulf Kristersson has been projected as the most likely candidate to succeed him, though the decision process is likely to drag out for weeks given the splintered nature of the legislature.

The bloc led by Lofven’s Social Democrats controls 144 parliamentary seats, and Kristersson’s Moderate party and other center-right parties hold 143. Meanwhile, neither bloc is willing to form a government that includes the Sweden Democrats, who control 62 seats, and so far Lofven’s Social Democrats have ruled out backing a center-right minority government.

As a result, there’s some chance Sweden could make history: If four attempts to form a government fail, that would trigger fresh elections – something that has never happened in the Scandinavian nation.


It’s Electric!

The bacteria in our guts may power our appliances someday.

In a study published in the journal Nature, scientists report that some types of bacteria that are consumed or reside in human intestines can generate sparks, Live Science reported.

Researchers tested the electrical abilities of Listeria monocytogenes – a species of foodborne bacteria often consumed by humans – by placing a batch of the microbes in an electrochemical chamber and collecting electrons generated by them.

According to the study’s authors, the bacteria generate electrical current to create energy, calling the process “probably a backup system that they use under certain conditions.”

In other words, they shoot tiny bolts of lightning during low-oxygen conditions in the gut.

Electricity-generating bacteria are not a new phenomenon.

Electrogenic bacteria that live in remote spots, such as the bottom of a lake, can also shoot out electricity. But unlike gut bacteria, they use a more complicated process to create buzz.

The team came across a set of genes that allowed microorganisms to transfer electrons in a simpler manner and observed this pattern in other bacterial species. They found bacteria in fermenting yogurt or probiotics generating shocks, for example.

Scientists are now hoping to use these microscopic powerhouses for energy-generating technologies. They say the process might take some time.

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