The World Today for February 15, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

NIGERIA

Buyer’s Remorse

As Nigerian voters pondered who should receive their support in presidential elections on Saturday, Al Jazeera zeroed in on the question foremost in many minds.

“Has Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari Honoured His Promises?” the Qatar-based news agency wrote in a headline.

The answer to that question appears to be a resounding no.

Buhari, 76, vowed to improve the West African country’s stagnating economy when he defeated ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.

But Bloomberg warned that Nigeria faces a “lost decade” unless the oil-dependent country diversifies its economy. High inflation and a growing pool of unemployed youth are already making that job harder every day.

A former military dictator who led Nigeria in the 1980s, Buhari also pledged to crack down on corruption.

But the New York Times noted that Buhari’s critics accuse the president of moving more vigorously against corruption by his political enemies than against allies living large from graft.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Buhari swore he would destroy Boko Haram, the militant group affiliated with the Islamic State whose fighters have kidnapped, raped and killed people in the country’s north with varying degrees of impunity for years.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, however, recently issued a worldwide plea to help 35,000 Nigerians who fled to Cameroon to escape the jihadists.

“When Boko Haram militants stormed into her hometown, heavily pregnant Nigerian mother Mariam Adoum dropped everything and ran for her life,” a UN press release said.

Buhari, in short, is a flop, many say. Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous country and the continent’s biggest economy, deserves better, argued the Guardian.

Some of Buhari’s setbacks were from events he probably couldn’t control. He suffered an “unspecified ailment” that required him to spend three months in Britain for treatment, for example, wrote Reuters. But the president needs to be in good enough health to govern.

Buhari’s main challenger is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, whom some of the president’s critics see as a vital, energetic alternative to Buhari. But Abubakar could be hurt by past allegations of corruption, all of which he denied. In 2010, for example, US Senate investigators said he had transferred more than $40 million in suspect funds to US banks.

The race is growing ugly, especially as candidates have integrated social media and other technologies into their campaigns. On the positive side, however, Quartz reported, election authorities have more tools to stymie vote rigging and other hijinks than were common in the past.

When former President Jonathan lost the vote four years ago, he became the first elected Nigerian leader to concede defeat and willingly leave office. It was a big win for democracy and a lesson Buhari should keep in mind.

WANT TO KNOW

EGYPT

Pretenses Dropped

Egypt’s parliament approved a plan to change the constitution to allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to extend his rule until 2034, dashing once again the hopes for vibrant democracy engendered during the 2011 protests that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

A referendum is now likely in as little as three months, with its passage seen as a foregone conclusion, the New York Times reported.

Enshrining an authoritarian government led by the country’s powerful military, the changes would allow el-Sisi to run for two additional six-year terms after he is slated to step down in 2022, as well as empower him to appoint judges and Egypt’s prosecutor general.

The changes would grant the military the power to choose the country’s defense minister, further reducing the possibility of civilian oversight.

The initial approval – which received the backing of 484 of 596 lawmakers – paves the way for a second and final vote two months later and a referendum a month after that.

INDIA

Upping The Ante

The deadliest attack in Kashmir in 30 years will put enormous pressure on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to retaliate against Pakistan in the lead-up to national elections later this year.

At least 40 members of India’s security forces were killed and many more were injured Thursday when militants attacked their convoy in the Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir, Bloomberg reported.

Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist outfit set up in Pakistan in the 1990s to end Indian control of the disputed region, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. And India’s foreign ministry swiftly issued a statement accusing Pakistan of giving the terror group “full freedom” to operate from its territory. Islamabad denied any connection to the strikes.

In 2016, Modi responded to a smaller assault with so-called “surgical strikes” on suspected terrorist training facilities in Pakistan. This time, however, a limited response might prompt criticism that he’s weak on terror, while a strong one could escalate tensions with Pakistan and spur accusations that he has mismanaged the Kashmir situation, warned Abhijnan Rej, a New Delhi-based security analyst.

SAUDI ARABIA

Dirty Money

As the rift between President Donald Trump and Capitol Hill over Saudi Arabia continues to widen, the European Union moved to add the Kingdom to a growing list of countries that face additional scrutiny from European banks due to their weak control over money laundering and terrorism financing.

If ratified by the 28 EU member states, the designation would compel European banks to institute tighter controls on transactions made with individuals or institutions from Saudi Arabia, Newsweek reported.

“Dirty money is the lifeblood of organized crime and terrorism,” said Vera Jourova, the European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality.

In the US, Trump so far remains steadfast in his support for the controversial longtime US ally. He is expected to veto a resolution to end US military support for the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting a war in Yemen if it passes the Senate, for instance. And he has resisted calls to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

DISCOVERIES

Picky Eaters

Cute panda bears love bamboo – and only bamboo.

But they weren’t always such picky eaters.

Scientists long believed the bears went on their exclusive diet more than two million years ago, but new research suggests the shift was quite recent, the Smithsonian reported.

Chinese researchers studied the remains of a dozen ancient pandas, as well as bone collagen from modern pandas, to determine their diet. They noted in their study that, as late as 5,000 years ago, giant pandas – known as Ailuropoda melanoleuca – had a more diverse diet than their modern descendants.

“It has been widely accepted that giant pandas have exclusively fed on bamboo for the last two million years,” co-author Fuwen Wei said in a statement. “Our results showed the opposite.”

It’s also unclear when the switch happened and why only bamboo: The animal’s digestive tract is not equipped to properly digest the plant, taking in only about 20 percent of the available energy from bamboo stalks.

The study, nevertheless, could help conservationists in saving the animal, which is currently listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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