The World Today for February 06, 2019

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Wanted: Revolution

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa decided to skip the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

Ostensibly, he couldn’t leave Zimbabwe while a wave of protests rocked the country, CNN reported. But he was probably also reluctant to attend a conference where billionaires, celebrities and internationally renowned social activists were likely to cite him as the poster child of how not to run a country.

In 2017, when Mnangagwa ousted President Robert Mugabe from power, many celebrated the regime change. But Mnangagwa was always among Mugabe’s inner circle in their political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

As the BBC explained, his nickname was the “crocodile” due to his political cunning and the military offensives associated with him that killed thousands after the country’s independence from Britain in 1980. Mnangagwa denies complicity in the massacres.

Still, he’s now reaping a whirlwind he helped create.

After years of neglect, Zimbabwe’s economy has collapsed.

Last month, Mnangagwa triggered protests when he ham-fistedly announced that the cost of fuel would double overnight. Now the price at the pump in the southern African country is the most expensive in the world, according to The costs of other goods are also skyrocketing as inflation soars.

Meanwhile, many live on less than a $1 a day.

The country was not always poor. In its heyday, the southwestern city of Bulawayo was like Chicago, “an industrial, farming and railway hub,” wrote the Financial Times. Now, “dormant factories and mothballed cold-storage facilities” that formerly shipped meat to Europe, garnering crucial foreign currency, dot the gutted city’s streets.

Zimbabweans are frustrated. Mugabe ruled for 37 years. As people filled the streets last month to express their anger over gas prices and higher living costs, Mnangagwa had an opportunity to address the nation and bring people together.

Instead, he shut down the Internet. Pictures of security forces cracking down on demonstrators didn’t sit well with the president, NPR reported.

Women are accusing soldiers of rape, the Guardian wrote. One victim spoke to Voice of America, describing her horrific experience at the hands of men who are supposed to be upholding law and order.

Mnangagwa, meanwhile, is blaming foreigners for stirring up the trouble. Clearly, his own people couldn’t be dissatisfied. “We have told the Western countries that they cannot turn around and raise concerns when they are the ones sponsoring the violence,” he told a local newspaper cited in Agence France-Presse.

Writing in the South Africa-based Independent Online, University of Johannesburg foreign policy expert David Monyae argued that Zimbabwe needed root-and-branch reforms that would end the ZANU-PF’s monopoly on power. “The fantasy that one leader or one political party can resolve the crisis is just that,” he wrote.

That would be a revolution that Mnangagwa would certainly oppose. But Zimbabweans deposed one dictator a short time ago. Many think they will do it again.



Strangling Aid

Foreign nonprofits have accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of raiding their offices and freezing their bank accounts to prevent them from operating freely.

Greenpeace India, which has been critical of the government’s response to pollution and other environmental issues, was forced to close two regional offices and eliminate some of its staff after its Bengaluru offices were raided and its bank accounts frozen, the Associated Press reported.

Similarly, Amnesty International India was forced to slash its staff by 30 percent and eliminate some of its programs after Finance Ministry officials raided its local headquarters in November.

While the Indian authorities allege that both groups violated the law by receiving foreign funds through shell companies, critics say the crackdown is intended to discredit those who attack Modi’s performance on human rights and other issues.

Already, Modi’s government has used the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to starve advocacy groups of funds and canceled the licenses of nearly 15,000 charities, the agency said. The controversy comes as the government comes under fire for withholding key jobs data that showed unemployment has spiked on Modi’s watch.


Firm and Appropriate

Tehran warned Israel it would deliver a “firm and appropriate” response if it continues to strike targets in Syria.

Israel is keen to prevent Iran from expanding its influence in Syria, where Tehran is a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reported. And as elections approach in April, Israel has been more and more open about its air strikes.

“If these actions continue, we will activate some calculated measures as a deterrent and as a firm and appropriate response to teach a lesson to the criminal and lying rulers of Israel,” said the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, according to the Fars news agency.

Simultaneously, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to limit Iran’s influence in Syria through negotiations with Moscow, Reuters said. He’s set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin Feb. 21 to discuss the threat Iran poses on the Syrian border.

“It’s very important that we continue to prevent Iran from entrenching in Syria,” Netanyahu said.



Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, faces accusations from a nuclear disarmament activist that he sexually assaulted her in 2014 during a meeting at his home.

The criminal complaint accuses him of rape, the Associated Press reported. Arias denies the charges.

“I have never acted in disrespect of the will of any woman,” Arias said in a brief statement in which he also emphasized his work on behalf of gender equality.

President of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and 2006 to 2010, Arias received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end civil wars in nearby Central American nations. He is still one of the most powerful figures in Costa Rica, where he runs a foundation that promotes peace and democracy, the New York Times said.

His accuser, Alexandra Arce von Herold, said he touched her breasts and penetrated her with his fingers without her consent.


Little Helpers

Termites are a homeowner’s worst nightmare, but they actually contribute a lot to maintaining rainforests.

Scientists inadvertently discovered the insects have a huge impact in helping forests handle drought, Gizmodo reported.

Researchers set up a termite-removal experiment in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo at the beginning of the 2015-16 El Niño drought. The study was designed to test insecticides on several plots of land, while other plots remained untouched.

The team noticed that during the dry spell, termites not only thrived in the pesticide-free areas, they enriched the soil with nutrients and moisture. The researchers believe the bugs’ industrious work helped seedlings survive the dry conditions.

“Our study shows for the first time that having termites helps protect forest from the effects of drought,” said study co-author Kate Parr.

Scientists aren’t sure why the pests became active during a dry season or what their long-term effect on tropical forests is, but the study helps in understanding why rainforests need to maintain their biodiversity to survive climate change.

“Had we not encountered this drought, we might not have known how important termites were,” said co-lead author Hannah Griffiths. “That raises alarm bells because there are plenty of other species (for which) we don’t know about their impacts.”

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