The World Today for February 21, 2019

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No More Humming Along

Senegal has long been an island of stability on a continent where war, famine and corruption are unfortunately widespread.

The Francophone West African country’s Feb. 24 presidential election, though, has upended business as usual.

President Macky Sall, who has held office since 2012, is likely to win re-election by garnering sufficient votes to avoid a runoff, reported the Financial Mail, a South African business weekly.

Therein lies the problem.

Last year, Sall and his allies in the National Assembly enacted election reforms that critics argue made it harder for the president’s political opponents to mount a challenge.

Some of the reforms, like requiring presidential candidates to secure thousands of signatures to appear on the ballot, were reasonable. But introducing the requirement a few months before the election was suspicious, wrote the Institute for Security Studies, a South Africa-based think tank.

Then, in January, Senegal’s Constitutional Court ruled that Sall’s two most threatening rivals – former Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall, who is not related to President Sall, and Karim Wade, the son of the previous president whom Macky Sall defeated in 2012 – could not run for office because they had been convicted of corruption charges in the past.

Few observers believe the five remaining candidates – profiled in this Africanews story – have a chance of beating Sall.

The opposition is angry. Former President Abdoulaye Wade, the father of the disqualified candidate, has called on his followers to boycott the election, the Associated Press reported.

Candidate Ousmane Sonko made waves last year when a video meant for campaigners was leaked to the press. “Those who have led Senegal from the start deserve to be shot,” said Sonko, according to Le Monde, a French newspaper.

Such language has consequences. Recently, supporters of President Sall and opposition candidate Issa Sall, who’s president of the University of the Sahel, clashed in the eastern city of Tambacounda. Two people died, reported Agence France-Presse. Police arrested dozens, seizing knives and clubs.

The next president will also grapple with important substantive issues, like whether or not to keep the Financial Community of Africa (CFA) franc, a currency used in Senegal and some other Francophone countries in the region, an Al Jazeera video reported.

The CFA franc provides financial stability to its users. But Sonko and others say it’s a legacy of French colonialism that has suppressed economic growth because it has a fixed exchange rate to the euro, explained France 24.

President Sall is in no rush to abandon the CFA franc. That’s likely a good idea. His foremost task should be to earn the trust of his people.



The Cost of Chaos

A raging fire killed at least 70 people in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, once again raising concerns about safety in a country where regulations are widely flouted.

“So far, 70 bodies have been recovered. The number could rise further as searching is still continuing,” Julfikar Rahman, a director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, told Reuters.

The fire broke out Wednesday night in a four-story building and quickly spread to other buildings in the Chawkbazar area of Old Dhaka. Fire fighters worked for more than five hours to control the blaze, which was still burning early Thursday.

The cause of the conflagration was not yet known, but the building where it started housed a plastics warehouse and was full of flammable material, according to the Dhaka Tribune.

After the eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed in 2013, killing around 1,130 people and injuring many others, most of them garment workers, Western brands agreed to two accords meant to improve safety. But few factories had managed to meet the new standards as of December 2015, according to the Atlantic.


Blasting the Bankers

A French court convicted Zurich-based UBS AG of aggravated money laundering and illegal bank soliciting Wednesday and issued what French media called a record fine of $5.1 billion. Five former UBS executives were also fined and awarded suspended prison sentences.

The charges relate to the bank’s alleged complicity in tax evasion by wealthy French citizens, the Associated Press reported.

The court found that UBS sent employees to sporting events and concerts to meet rich French executives and athletes and convince them to stash their money in Switzerland. A total of around $10.75 billion was allegedly hidden in Switzerland between 2004 and 2012.

UBS criticized the ruling and vowed to appeal, saying the judgment was based on “unfounded allegations of former employees” and suggesting France’s biases against low taxes may have figured in the decision.

Groups that have advocated more transparent banking since the global financial crisis cheered the ruling, which will likely encourage banks embroiled in similar cases in France to settle instead of fighting it out in court.


Talking Him Out?

The Venezuelan opposition has shifted focus from encouraging military leaders to drop their support for President Nicolas Maduro to urging his Socialist Party officials to join a transition government.

“This transition requires a large national agreement between the country’s political forces,” Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-run National Assembly, told Reuters.

That would mean including the left-wing movement founded by Hugo Chavez, who hand-picked Maduro as his successor.

“You cannot disappear Chavismo and you cannot go from persecuted to persecutor. This is not political revenge,” Zambrano said.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked constitutional rules to declare himself interim president last month, is still putting the pressure on Maduro with street protests and international diplomacy, and crippling US sanctions on the country’s oil sector will come into effect soon. But analysts say the standoff could drag on for months, potentially helping Maduro to survive.

“The longer times passes and the opposition doesn’t pose a legitimate threat to Maduro, the more confident he will get,” said Raul Gallegos, an analyst with the consultancy Control Risks.


The Leave Behind

People always want to leave something behind.

A new study posits that Europe’s prehistoric stone monuments – which are known as megaliths and include the famed Stonehenge in England – might have originated from one hunter-gatherer community that lived in the region of France now known as Brittany, Science Alert reported.

Researcher Bettina Schulz Paulsson and her team analyzed radiocarbon dating data for more than 2,400 sites across Europe as well as the human remains buried in those sites to narrow down the monuments’ origins.

They concluded that megalith movement began in the northwest of France around 4,500 BC and expanded over a period of around 250 years across the rest of the continent and the British Isles.

The team also noted that humans at that time weren’t isolated and had developed advanced ocean-crossing technology to travel coastal routes.

“The earliest megaliths originated in northwest France and spread along the sea routes of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts in three successive principal phases,” Schulz Paulsson said in her study.

The new theory still needs more research. Other scholars believe it’s very plausible, however.

“This study falls in with the more accepted idea that there are links between these different regions with megalithic monuments,” archaeologist Chris Scarre told the Smithsonian. “The challenge is to understand how those links worked.”

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