The World Today for December 28, 2018

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A Dream Deferred

Last week, election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo delayed elections until Dec. 30.

Many voters went apoplectic.

One could hardly blame them. As the BBC explained, President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001 after the assassination of his father, was supposed to leave office in 2016 under the vast Central African country’s constitution. But election officials at the time found excuses to delay the vote.

Recently, a mysterious fire destroyed 8,000 voting machines in Kinshasa, the capital. Officials found replacement machines but needed time to print five million new ballots, Independent National Election Commission President Corneille Nangaa said.

“Nangaa speaks nonsense,” protester Fiston Adumba told the Associated Press. “They didn’t organize the election in seven years and they want us to believe they will be ready in seven days? Kabila is sabotaging the election. Kabila must go.”

Adumba is not an outlier.

“My Country Is Sliding Toward Chaos,” was the headline of a New York Times op-ed piece by Denis Mukwege, a Congolese doctor and activist who was a co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mukwege called on Kabila to resign, saying security forces and the president’s allies had killed peaceful opposition supporters. The European Union, he added, has imposed sanctions on Kabila’s handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, for cracking down on opponents.

If Shadary wins via legitimate or illegitimate means, unrest is likely to result. But, in a characteristic autocrat’s move, Kabila is using that threat of violence to curtail civil rights. The governor of Kinshasa, who’s a member of Kabila’s ruling coalition, banned campaigning, citing fears that extremists were preparing for “a street confrontation,” Al Jazeera reported. Election officials postponed voting until March in three cities, too, citing Ebola and ethnic violence.

Alas, experts have been warning of such tactics for months.

“The Congolese political class has demonstrated its venality, betraying a population that has repeatedly pushed for its right to elect a new president in a free and fair process,” wrote Stephanie Wolters, a South Africa-based expert at the Institute for Security Studies, in a report last month.

Bloodshed could be on the horizon, a potential catastrophe. Civil war in the country in the 1990s dragged in Congo’s neighbors, sparking an international conflict that has been called Africa’s World War.

Luckily, as France24 showed in this fascinating broadcast, the Roman Catholic Church wields significant power in the country. Church officials have called for Kabila to step down and for voters to make sure they cast ballots and participate in democracy peacefully.

The clergy might fail. But Kabila could make their job a lot easier.



Exit, Pursued By Bear

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria, Russia has warned Turkey to allow the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to take control of the areas vacated by US troops.

Turkey has said it is working with Washington to coordinate the withdrawal of US forces but remains “determined” to drive out US-allied Kurdish fighters from Manbij in northern Syria, the Daily Mail reported.

That means Turkey is dispatching military vehicles and troop carriers to the border, while Assad’s troops and Russian forces have also started deploying to the front lines around Manbij, the paper said.

Trump stunned his advisers and precipitated the resignation of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis with the surprise announcement last week that he planned to withdraw US troops from Syria, where Washington has supported Kurdish troops for four years.

On Thursday, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said if the pullout really happens “it would have a positive impact on the situation.”

The question is for whom.


The Mercenary Position

While the US has used mercenaries, or “private contractors,” extensively in recent conflicts, Germany has proposed something different: Inducting European Union citizens into the regular army.

Seven years after Germany abandoned conscription, army general inspector Eberhard Zorn said the military needs to look “in all directions” for personnel with special skills, such as doctors and IT specialists, due to years of under-investment, the BBC reported.

Following criticism of its defense spending from Donald Trump, Germany has pledged to increase its defense budget from 1.2 percent to 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product by 2024, while adding another 21,000 troops by 2025 to the present total of 182,000 uniformed soldiers.

Currently, post-World War II laws mandate that only German citizens can be inducted into the army, but the forces already include immigrants with dual citizenship and foreign civilian staff. The proposal is an interesting one, nevertheless, coming in the wake of (not-too-serious) calls by Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron for the creation of a European Union army.


Housecleaning Starts at Home

Brazil’s far-right president-elect stormed into office on promises to crack down on crime and root out corruption. But ahead of his inauguration his son has come into the crosshairs.

Newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro is set to take office Jan. 1, Reuters reported. But allegations concerning his son, Rio de Janeiro state lawmaker and Senator-elect Flavio Bolsonaro, are casting doubts on the sincerity of his pledges to change Brazil’s endemic culture of corruption.

The scandal stems from Brazil’s Council for Financial Activities Control’s (COAF) claims that 1.2 million reais ($305,033) flowed through the bank account of Flavio’s driver in 2016-17. Some of those funds eventually landed in the account of the president-elect’s wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.

While all three men deny any wrongdoing, local media remain skeptical of their explanations.

“Ever since this case came to light, there has been a spectacle of evasions and unconvincing explanations on the part of the Bolsonaros,” Brazil’s biggest newspaper, Folha de S.Paulo, said in an editorial on Thursday.

The driver, Fabricio Queiroz, says the money stemmed from his side-business buying and selling cars.


What a Twist

The 1990s blockbuster “Twister” showed Hollywood movie magic at its maximum – via depictions of the destructive power of tornadoes – although it was rife with inaccuracies.

Still, tornado chasers and weather scientists do pursue these weather phenomena to better understand them.

In a recent study, scientists concluded that tornadoes actually form from the ground up, instead of starting from the clouds and coming down, the Washington Post reported.

Researcher Jana Houser and her team observed this phenomenon while studying several tornadoes, including the massive twister that struck near El Reno, Oklahoma, in 2013. It had winds up to 300 mph and was the widest tornado ever recorded.

The ground-up theory is not new, but the team lamented that the lack of enough data makes it hard to prove. Tornadoes have short lifespans. It takes months of research to observe them develop and better equipment is needed to analyze their creation.

“We don’t know beforehand when these storms are going to produce tornadoes,” Houser said during a news conference. “Being in the right place at the right time is challenging.”

But other researchers suggested that the new study could help in understanding how the extreme storms emerge and when authorities should issue warnings.

Only 10 to 20 percent of rotating thunderstorms produce tornadoes, which currently leads to plenty of false alarms.

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