The World Today for February 18, 2019

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Battling a Legacy

On the first anniversary of his presidency this month, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is struggling with legacy issues.

Ramaphosa sparked controversy last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, when he referred to his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s tenure in office as “nine lost years.” As numerous scandals tarred his corrupt administration, Zuma was forced to resign last year with more than a year left in his term.

The South African press has been abuzz with debates over whether Ramaphosa was correct or mistaken about Zuma’s record and whether he should have panned a former head of state before an international audience.

Many reports, like this one in news24, also noted that Ramaphosa ironically was serving in government when Zuma resigned.

Revving up the commotion, Zuma issued a public statement refuting his former deputy’s assessment. “Could we have done more? Yes. Could it have been better? Yes,” the ex-president wrote, according to the Independent Online. “Was it a wasted decade? No.”

In his recent State of the Nation address, Ramaphosa indirectly addressed the storm he had caused, saying South Africa has suffered through a period of uncertainty that was now coming to an end.

“We must use this time to reflect on the progress we have made, the challenges we have encountered, the setbacks we have suffered and also the mistakes we have committed,” he said, reported the Citizen, a South African newspaper.

The public is still very supportive of the president, with polls showing he is more popular than his troubled party, the ANC, reported the Washington Times.

Some observers were less generous.

After “Zumageddon,” a period of “Ramaphoria” took over, political analyst Susan Booysen wrote in the Maverick, a South African news magazine. But Ramaphosa has enjoyed mixed success in tackling corruption, reinventing government and growing the economy, she argued.

Booysen admitted that Ramaphosa faces monumental challenges, however.

Take Eskom, the government-owned utility that provides South Africa with more than 90 percent of its electricity. As Bloomberg explained, the country has been suffering from rolling blackouts imposed to save the national grid. The problem is likely to persist for years because, as energy analyst Rod Crompton noted in the Conversation, Eskom is loaded with debt that stems from arguably poor management decisions.

Ramaphosa wants foreign investment to help. He’s planning to break up Eskom into three entities, a plan greeted with optimism at the Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper.

But labor unions, including those at Eskom, are threatening strikes because the government is allegedly not working hard enough to lower the unemployment rate of 27 percent – not an environment that attracts cash.

It seems Ramaphosa can only move forward when the past becomes the past.



Better Late Than Never?

Nigeria postponed its presidential elections by a week just hours before polls were to open Saturday, prompting opposition accusations that President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking to “disenfranchise” voters.

The electoral commission denied political bias played any role in the move, saying the vote was postponed due to logistical factors, Reuters reported.

Foreign election observers appealed for calm, while urging the authorities to follow through on their pledge to hold the postponed vote on Feb. 23, the BBC reported. Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, said that date was “sacrosanct.”

Past Nigerian elections have been marred by violence and vote-rigging, so the Electoral Commission’s claims that the delay was due to logistical problems were greeted with some skepticism.

“No matter who wins, it is now far more likely that the loser will contest the result and argue that the election has been compromised because sensitive materials are out there,” said Bismarck Rewane, economist and CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Finance Derivatives.

Buhari, in power since 2015, faces a tight election contest against former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).


Money, Where the Mouth Is

Politicians are often excoriated for doing whatever it takes to remain in office, so the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party’s (BSP) decision Sunday to quit the National Assembly made quite a statement.

The party’s national council voted to abandon the legislature by a margin of 74 to 33, with three abstentions, unless the parliament elects a new Central Election Commission, returns to a previous system of preferential voting, and reopens a debate on machine voting, the Sofia Globe reported. None of those things is likely to happen.

The boycott was prompted by amendments to the Electoral Code that reduced the importance of preferential voting – an election method in which voters rank several choices rather than selecting only one candidate.

However, the BSP also flagged the parliament’s low approval rate, which currently stands at just eight percent, and blasted legislators for enacting laws “in the interests of companies and oligarchs, and behind-the-scenes party arrangements only in the interests of certain parties.”


Strings Attached

Under fire for the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and maintaining a weak defense against money laundering and terror financing, Saudi Arabia pledged $20 billion in investments to help Pakistan shore up its floundering economy.

The larger-than-expected pledge comes as Pakistan faces escalating tensions with its neighbor, following accusations from India that it has fostered and supported the terrorist group that claimed credit for the deadliest attack to hit Indian-administered Kashmir in 30 years, Reuters reported.

On a high-profile visit to Islamabad, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised that the initial $20 billion, earmarked mostly for energy projects, is only the beginning, the agency said.

“It’s big for phase 1, and definitely it will grow every month and every year, and it will be beneficial to both countries,” the prince said.

In October, Saudi Arabia offered Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan a lifeline in the form of a $6 billion loan to keep the country afloat while he negotiates a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.


A Light Whisper

Want to communicate privately with someone across a crowded room, and calling or texting isn’t an option?

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have a novel answer for you. They’ve developed a system to transmit sound waves using lasers, Live Science reported.

In a study published in Optics Letters, the Optical Society’s journal, the researchers explained a technique that works by wiggling an eye-safe laser beam back and forth across water molecules in the air near someone’s ears. The motion causes the water particles to bump into the air molecules, producing sound.

“This can work even in relatively dry conditions because there is almost always a little water in the air, especially around people,” said lead researcher Charles Wynn.

Using equipment that’s commercially available now, the researchers showed that they can transmit sounds up to 60 decibels – equivalent to background music or a conversation in a restaurant – across distances of around eight feet, according to Digital Trends. The scientists plan to experiment with longer ranges soon.

The Optical Society sees practical applications for the technology.

“The ability to send highly targeted audio signals over the air could be used to communicate across noisy rooms or warn individuals of a dangerous situation such as an active shooter,” it said in a statement.


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