The World Today for November 07, 2018

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The 36-Way Race

Madagascar is in the height of campaign season, with 36 candidates, including four ex-heads of state, running for the presidency.

“Hidden from the world’s view or interest a Titanic battle for democracy and human rights over greed and self-interest is being waged in little-known Madagascar,” wrote Peter Mann, a communications consultant to former president and presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana, in the Maverick, a South African news outlet.

The stakes for Ravalomanana are especially high for the Nov. 7 vote and possible Dec. 19 runoff. He was president in 2009 when military leaders deposed him in a coup. The man who orchestrated the ouster and led the transition government under the generals, Andry Rajoelina, is also running.

The incumbent, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, is also seeking re-election. Rajaonarimampianina was the winner in 2013, the first election held after the coup.

National security and corruption are at the top of everyone’s agenda. Graft affects every level of society, Agence France-Presse reported, noting that Madagascar ranks 155 out of 180 on Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

The government, for example, recently took flak for attempting to sell the country’s stockpile of illegally felled rosewood despite an embargo under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the environmental website Mongabay reported. The kicker: The plan was to pay local timber tycoons for their wood, essentially rewarding them for illegal logging.

Amnesty International also recently found that Malagasy unlucky enough to fall into pretrial detention in the island’s filthy, overpopulated prisons often suffered diseases like tuberculosis.

“A catalog of failures in Madagascar’s criminal justice system means people are suffering in prison for years before they have their day in court,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa, in a press release. “One man accused of stealing cattle had been in detention for three and a half years.”

While the candidates have plenty of material for their stump speeches, don’t think the large number of politicians vying for the top office reflects the strength of democracy in Madagascar.

Rather, the presence of a whopping 36 candidates in the race reflects the patronage politics that are common on the island. Powerbroker candidates run so they can put their weight behind front-runners in the runoff in exchange for jobs later.

“It’s political calculations,” Marcus Schneider, director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, told African Arguments. “There is a lot of ethnic voting. In the second round, those [smaller] candidates will support the big two: this is where support gets bought. [They] might also get a job as a minister.”

Politics works that way everywhere, of course, though rarely to such an extent. Hopefully, the enormous slate of runners helps the Malagasy reach consensus about how to move forward.



Tough Talk and Plots

The president of France is talking tough. Some wonder if that’s creating a backlash.

A week after he warned that the “leprosy” of nationalism was spreading throughout Europe and a day after he called for a “true, European” army to defend against threats from “China, Russia and even the United States of America,” French President Emmanuel Macron was allegedly targeted in a possible assassination plot, the BBC reported.

French authorities detained five men and a woman on suspicion of plotting a “violent” attack on the president and are now investigating possible links to a “criminal terrorist association,” the news channel said.

Touring battlefields to mark the centenary of the World War One armistice, Macron said Tuesday that Europe needs its own army in the wake of America’s waning support for NATO under President Donald Trump, claiming, “We must have a Europe that can defend itself on its own without relying only on the United States.”

Bold words aside, such an army is unlikely to materialize, opined defense correspondent Jonathan Marcus.


Jails and Re-education

France, Germany and the United States on Tuesday called on China to release as many as a million Uighurs and other Muslims allegedly being detained in so-called re-education camps.

At a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the US urged China to “abolish all forms of arbitrary detention, including internment camps in Xinjiang, and immediately release the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of individuals detained in these camps,” said US charge d’affaires Mark Cassayre, according to Reuters.

But China dismissed the allegations of mass detentions as “seriously far away from facts,” said Le Yucheng, Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs, who headed China’s 66-member delegation.

The dispute follows the release of a report from the US-based Jamestown Foundation claiming that China’s security-related spending in Xinjiang – the massive, northwest frontier province where Uighurs make up around 45 percent of the population – more than tripled between 2016 and 2017.

The budget increase and satellite data showing new construction together suggest a spike in new security facilities in 2017.


The Cost of Peace

The new push for peace from the US and its Western allies has inspired Saudi Arabia to intensify its efforts to take as much territory as possible in Yemen – with deadly consequences.

Over the past week, the Saudi-led coalition has launched punishing attacks on the capital, Sanaa, as well as the mountainous northern provinces and the port city of Hodeida, the New York Times reported.

Of greatest concern is the apparent redoubling of efforts by the United Arab Emirates-led troops around Hodeida to take the strategic port from the Houthi rebels before peace talks gain traction.

Local aid workers and US officials told the Times that coalition forces are threatening to encircle the city and are pounding Houthi positions with a nearly constant barrage of airstrikes. With the United Nations warning that the existing humanitarian crisis could well spiral into famine, the new push could also plunge the country deeper into war, the paper said.

“Any military escalation does not help efforts to relaunch the political process,” said Martin Griffiths, the United Nations peace envoy.


One, Into Two

Scientists deserve credit for trying to figure out how the natural world functions.

But sometimes they make mistakes.

For 200 years, they have mistakenly bundled two crocodile species into one, only recently sorting them out as distinct species, Newsweek reported.

Scientists described the new species, the Central African slender-snouted crocodile, and dubbed it Mecistops leptorhynchus in a study recently published in the journal Zootaxa.

Previously thought to be identical to its West African cousin, the new croc is found mostly between Cameroon and Tanzania. It has smaller, softer scales than its relative and also lacks a bony nub on its skull.

Study author Matthew Shirley explained that he and his team had to extensively research the two different reptiles, an arduous process that resulted in him contracting malaria 16 times.

“Basically this involved me running around 14 different African countries from 2006 to 2012, and I have not left the field since,” he said.

The team argued that the two species differentiated eight million years ago after volcanic activity created a mountain boundary in today’s Cameroon.

The discovery, however, means that the West African croc is now critically endangered, with only about 500 remaining.

Researchers hope that the new species designation will help conservationists better protect the creatures and are cooperating with West African governments on a breeding and reintroduction program.

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