November 22, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

TANZANIA

Chipping Away

Local elections on Nov. 24 are quickly becoming a test of whether Tanzania can become a real democracy or not.

As African Arguments explained, the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi political party stands accused of election fraud, suppression of political dissent, media control and violence against rivals of the party’s standard bearer, President John Magufuli.

Opposition candidates are running against the party in the local elections. But they are also calling into question the very legitimacy of the electoral process, which they say is rigged against anyone except Magufuli’s supporters.

For example, Tanzanians like Bob Chacha Wangwe, 28, faced harassment when they expressed their views, Human Rights Watch wrote. After commenting on unfair elections in Tanzania, Wangwe spent months in prison while he was on trial and eventually was fined almost $2,200, more than most people earn annually in the East African country.

“We see a dangerous repressive trend escalating in Tanzania,” Amnesty International’s Tanzania researcher Roland Ebole said in an interview with Al Jazeera. “The authorities are denying citizens their right to information by administering only those ‘truths’ sanctioned by the state.”

Members of the main alternative party, Chadema, recently announced they would boycott the elections after the government disqualified many of their candidates over technicalities like spelling mistakes on campaign forms and odd barriers like rules against politicians campaigning outside their districts.

“Our party believes it is wiser not to support such electoral cheating,” Chadema President Freeman Mbowe told Al Jazeera. “To continue to participate in elections of this kind is to legitimize illegality.”

The government caved and reversed its rulings on the candidates, the BBC reported. Chadema is now working overtime to drum up popular support, taking the party’s message to the streets where the government can’t so easily suppress opposition candidates’ participation in politics.

When the polls open on Nov. 24, critics of Magufuli’s administration hope to win local offices or at least call attention to the government’s vote meddling. But their eyes are really on the 2020 presidential election, when Magufuli is expected to seek a second five-year term.

Activists have scored victories. Recently, the country’s supreme court upheld a ban on child marriages, for example, CNN reported. Two out of five Tanzanian girls are married before their 18th birthday. Child rights advocates managed to persuade a court to strike down law permitting young marriages, but Magufuli’s attorney general appealed that decision. The court rebuffed him.

Such wins show that common sense can prevail in Tanzania. It might take a while, though.

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WANT TO KNOW

ISRAEL

The Plot Thickens

Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday he was indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, throwing the political stability in the country into further doubt, the Associated Press reported.

Netanyahu is accused of allegedly accepting bribes in the form of gifts, and offering favors to a newspaper publisher and telecom magnate in exchange for positive coverage.

He has denied the allegations and calls them part of a witch hunt.

With the charges, Netanyahu becomes the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted and this deals a blow to his hopes of remaining in office. Still, Israeli law doesn’t require him to step down.

Regardless, the indictment comes at a tense time as Israel might be soon heading for a third election within 12 months.

Both Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, have failed to form a majority coalition after an inconclusive election in September.

The country has entered a 21-day period in which any lawmaker can try to form a 61-member majority to become prime minister. Otherwise, the country will hold elections next year.

SRI LANKA

Bro Force

Sri Lanka’s newly elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, swore in his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister, the first time in the country’s history that two siblings now hold the nation’s top two political positions, Al Jazeera reported.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former president, replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe hours after the latter resigned following the defeat of his party’s candidate in the presidential elections last week.

Mahinda has served as prime minister in the past as well, and is currently in charge of a caretaker government until parliamentary elections next year.

The brothers have promised a stronger economy and heightened national security following bombings in April by Islamic extremists that killed more than 260 people.

Both siblings are beloved by the nation’s Sinhalese majority and Buddhist clergy for their role in ending Sri Lanka’s 27-year civil war against the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009.

Gotabaya, however, has been accused of committing war crimes when he was defense secretary during Mahinda’s presidency from 2005 to 2015.

TUVALU

United We Stand

Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe said on Thursday that his South Pacific nation rejected offers from Chinese companies to build artificial islands to help counter the rising sea levels, while expressing support for Taiwan.

“Tuvalu and Taiwan diplomatic ties are strongest they’ve ever been,” he told Reuters.

He also reiterated that his country and several other Pacific nations are working together to create a group that “will be able to counter the influence from mainland China.”

Tuvalu’s support comes two months after the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands switched their allegiance to China.

The move by Tuvalu comes as a relief for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election in January and has witnessed seven countries break diplomatic relations with Taiwan since she took office in 2016.

China’s government has been trying in recent months to further isolate Taiwan, which it considers part of its territory.

It has also been trying to expand its influence in the Pacific, which has alarmed the United States and its allies.

DISCOVERIES

‘Divine’ Influence

The Catholic Church didn’t just spread Christianity in Europe, according to a recent study.

Historians argue that the church might also be responsible for a psychological thought pattern that is predominantly found in Western countries and distinct from the rest of the world, NPR reported.

Unlike societies in other parts of the world, people in the West have been dubbed by previous researchers as “WEIRD” –  short for “Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.”

WEIRD countries tend to be more individualistic and put more emphasis on personal independence, compared to other parts of the world that are more “collectivist” due to their extended family networks and obligations.

Europe was similar to the rest of the world up until around AD 500, the new study suggests.

Researchers studied the Vatican archives and found that, during the early Middle Ages, the church began setting policies that banned marriages within extended families – including cousin marriage and incest – and promoted smaller nuclear families.

The policies worked and the team noted that wherever the church exerted control there were lower rates of cousin marriages and weaker ties to extended families.

The church’s influence encouraged people to rely less on relatives, become more independent and more trusting of strangers.

Scholars said that more research is needed to determine how this psychological shift happened and why it still continues today, despite the church’s declining influence.