The World Today for January 16, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

GABON

Clinging On

Citizens of Gabon tuning into the national radio station early in the morning on January 7 were in for a surprise.

A small group of junior military officers took control of the broadcaster and called for a revolution to oust President Ali Bongo, the BBC reported.

Bongo, 59, suffered a stroke in October. He’s been recovering since then in Morocco. But apart from a New Year’s message recorded in that country, he hadn’t been updating his people about the status of his health.

The officers said his “pitiful” appearance in the video from Morocco inspired them to seek power for the good of the nation, according to the BBC.

In a matter of hours, Gabonese security forces found the officers, killing two and apprehending seven more. And on Tuesday, Bongo finally returned home to swear in a new cabinet and boost his chances of clinging on in office, the BBC reported.

The incident reflects the staying power of Africa’s long-serving rulers and their families, the Economist wrote. Bongo took charge in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar, who was dictator from 1967 until then.

But the botched coup also reflected growing frustrations in the oil-rich country, a former French colony on central Africa’s Atlantic coast.

“For all its lack of preparedness, the attempted takeover carried a political message, one that highlights the deep distress of the people of Gabon,” Amadou Ba, a Paris-based analyst for the Institute for European Prospective and Security, told France 24.

As the price of oil has plunged in recent years, so too has economic growth in Gabon. Bongo and the country’s rich elites have absconded with much of the country’s wealth. Now, however, as the economic pie has shrunk, the country’s two million citizens have fallen deeper into poverty. The pressure is rising in the country.

As usual, the elites appear clueless. In a move illustrating the gap between Gabonese leaders and ordinary folks, officials cut the Internet, set a curfew in the capital and closed the country’s border with Cameroon, Voice of America wrote. Gabon imports much of its food from Cameroon. The fact that people might go hungry didn’t seem to bother those in charge.

“Mr. Bongo needs to return to Gabon and do something positive for the country,” the former American ambassador to the country, Eric Benjaminson, told the New York Times prior to his arrival this week.

Bongo’s case is not unique. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari spent much of 2017 in foreign hospitals even as his country battled the Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram. Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika is 81 and increasingly looking feeble. In 2017, the Zimbabwean army deposed Robert Mugabe, then 93, only when they could no longer hide that he was unfit to handle his responsibilities.

It’s hard to leave power. But those who persist in refusing to leave eventually find themselves out in the cold.

WANT TO KNOW

BRITAIN

What’s Nexit?

European leaders warned Britain that the time is running out to orchestrate an orderly withdrawal from the European Union, after a resounding parliamentary defeat of her proposed deal on Tuesday prompted a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Theresa May.

Officials in Brussels and other European capitals reiterated that the rejected deal is the best Britain will get and the last hope to avoid a so-called “hard Brexit” on March 29, Al Jazeera reported.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, also suggested in a Tweet that the real solution would be for Britain to remain in the EU after all, following the defeat of May’s deal by a vote of 432 to 202 in the House of Commons.

In an attempt to out-maneuver Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, May herself called for a vote of no confidence in her government after Corbyn tabled his own motion, the UK’s Sun newspaper reported. She’s tipped to survive the vote, which takes place at 7 p.m. local time, as Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party has confirmed it will support her.

Anything from a hard Brexit to no Brexit is now possible, according to the Moody’s ratings agency.

VENEZUELA

Anniversary Present

US President Donald Trump is considering recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s real president, following his offer to step in as a temporary replacement for President Nicolas Maduro on Friday.

Three sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Trump is weighing the move in a bid to put more pressure on Maduro, who was sworn in for a second term last week after a May election that most outside observers have decried as a farce. Trump is also mulling even harsher sanctions, including a full-fledged embargo on Venezuelan oil, CNN said.

On Friday, Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido reminded a crowd of supporters that his country’s constitution gives him the right to step in for the president and call for fresh elections and vowed to do just that if he can secure the support of the public, the armed forces and the international community, the Associated Press reported.

Briefly detained by Venezuelan intelligence agents before the rally, Guaido called for nationwide demonstrations against Maduro on Jan. 23 – the anniversary of the mass uprising that ousted dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958.

SENEGAL

That’s Sall, Folks

As expected, Senegal’s Constitutional Court has barred two prominent opposition figures from running against President Macky Sall in next month’s election, due to their convictions for the misuse of public funds. But their exclusion could undermine the legitimacy of the vote.

The seven-member court on Monday rejected the candidacies of former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-minister Karim Wade, while clearing the incumbent president and four other candidates to contest the Feb. 24 vote, Agence France-Presse reported. The two excluded candidates have until Jan. 20 to appeal the decision.

Currently, the candidates squaring off against Sall include a former prime minister, an associate of a former president and two other opposition leaders, the agency said, noting that Senegal is seen as a model of democracy in Africa.

The exclusion of the two candidates poses “an enormous risk” to that reputation, however, said Amnesty International’s regional director, Alioune Tine, as various international and regional organizations have questioned the fairness of the trials that convicted them.

DISCOVERIES

Public Domain

As a sign of humility, writers and illustrators of medieval manuscripts rarely put their names in their works.

Most of them were presumed to be men. But a recent discovery revealed that women contributed their fair share in making medieval books.

During a study of remains from a cemetery at a women’s monastery in Germany, researchers uncovered traces of ultramarine pigment on a woman’s teeth, CNN reported.

Ultramarine is a blue pigment derived from the lapis lazuli stone, one of the most expensive materials in use at that time and mined only from a single region in Afghanistan.

“Only scribes and painters of exceptional skill would have been entrusted with its use,” said study co-author Alison Beach.

In their study, the archaeological team stated that the most likely explanation for the pigment’s presence in the woman’s teeth was that she was a painter and would lick the end of the brush during her work.

Because authorship of medieval texts was rarely known, women weren’t often credited. Many works were also lost. Only a few surviving texts suggest women could be scribes.

“It makes me wonder how many other artists we might find in medieval cemeteries – if we only look,” said senior study author Christina Warinner.

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