The World Today for January 29, 2020

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The Next Big Thing

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma is bullish on Africa. The continent has 1.3 billion people. Forty percent are younger than 16. Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa. The upside is astronomical.

“Each time I go, I come away more convinced that Africa’s entrepreneurs will write the future of the continent,” the founder of online retailing giant Alibaba recalled in a New York Times opinion piece.

Ma is not alone. Facebook recently touted the latent potential of Africa, claiming to have trained more than 7,000 women-owned businesses on the continent in digital skills, World Politics Review wrote.

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said he would be moving to Africa for as long as six months this year, too. “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!),” he tweeted from Addis Ababa, according to the Guardian.

Brookings Institution scholar Landry Signé explained how Africa’s economy has slowly but surely developed, leading to more wealth and expanding markets for global goods. Investors have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor, he concluded. Quartz agreed.

Africans are working for a renaissance, too. Nearly 30 countries have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. In addition to creating a single market of more than one billion people worth $2.5 trillion, the pact will spur reforms in African economies, empowering private business to grow where the state has long wielded too much power and influence, said economist Paul Alaje in an interview with CNBC Africa.

A group of West African countries are also discussing a monetary union centered on a new currency, the eco, which would replace the CFA francs used in a collection of nations in West and Central Africa, CNBC reported. Those efforts are hitting snags as different leaders disagree on the details.

Still, at a time when protectionism has become the rage in Western capitals, Africa’s free trade plans appear to be a triumph for multilateralism, reported Xinhua. The Beijing-based, state-owned news agency’s readers would know that Chinese money has been especially active on the continent, investing in massive infrastructure projects while extracting natural resources.

Writing about Africa’s economic fortunes in the Hill, author K. Riva Levinson chose to highlight the recent revolution in Sudan, where democracy activists successfully ousted an autocrat and forced political change on the government. Sudan shows how, since entrepreneurs alone can’t necessarily fix bad governments, popular movements can, she argued.

Either way, it’s people power.



A “Two-state” Solution?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised US President Donald Trump’s newly announced peace plan for the Middle East on Tuesday, calling it “a great plan for peace,” the Guardian reported.

The 181-page plan recognizes the majority of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory as part of Israel. It will allow the potential creation of a Palestinian “state,” but with severe restrictions.

The plan recognizes the Jordan Valley – which comprises a third of the occupied West Bank – as part of Israel. It also offers a $50 billion investment that would triple Palestine’s gross domestic product.

Netanyahu said he will take steps to start the annexation of the Jordan Valley next week, while his political rival Benny Gantz called the plan a “significant and historic milestone.”

Palestinian high officials from both political factions, Fatah and Hamas, strongly condemned the plan and rejected all of the proposals.

Palestinian leaders were not invited to participate in the drafting of the peace plan.

Protests were held in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip on Tuesday, and larger ones were planned for Wednesday.

The peace deal comes at a time when both Trump and Netanyahu are facing their own domestic issues.

Netanyahu faces three corruption cases. On Tuesday he dropped a request for parliamentary immunity, prompting Israel’s attorney general to file a formal indictment against him, the BBC reported.


Friendships and Pledges

The British government on Tuesday gave China’s Huawei permission to help build Britain’s 5G network in a decision that could jeopardize Britain’s trade and intelligence relations with the United States, CNN reported.

The decision will allow British mobile operators to use Huawei equipment in their 5G networks, which promise to handle greater volumes of data and process it faster than existing ones. However, it excludes the Chinese company from “security critical” core areas, such as military sites and nuclear power stations.

The announcement comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is negotiating with the US on a new trade deal to take effect after Britain leaves the European Union on Jan. 31.

The US government has repeatedly warned Britain and its allies against purchasing Huawei products, alleging that China will use the equipment for espionage.

Huawei has denied that it would help the Chinese government to spy. The company said Tuesday that it was “reassured” that it would be able to continue working with its UK customers on 5G.

Johnson’s government has pledged to bring 5G to the entire country by 2025.


Heavy-Handed Methods

Thousands of people gathered Tuesday in several Pakistani and Afghan cities to protest the detention in Pakistan of an ethnic Pashtun rights activist who has criticized the Pakistani army for its operations in the northwestern tribal regions, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Earlier this week, Pakistani authorities detained Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), on charges of sedition and incitement against the state’s institutions.

His arrest was condemned by several human rights organizations and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Demonstrators have demanded Pashteen’s release and have held rallies in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and outside the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Authorities in Islamabad also detained Pakistani lawmaker and PTM leader, Mohsin Dawar, and around 25 others during the protests, Agence France-Presse reported.

Since 2018, PTM has campaigned for civil rights for ethnic Pashtuns and accused Pakistan’s army of abuses against Pashtuns and connections with Islamist militants.


Bigger Questions

There are many tales surrounding the giant squid, but little scientific research carried out on the mysterious creature.

The large cephalopod has never been caught and kept alive, so there are a lot of questions regarding its biology, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Scientists, however, were able to sequence the squid’s genome, which could finally shed some light into the marine animal’s biology.

In a recent study, a research team found that the giant squid’s genome was really big: It had 2.7 billion DNA base pairs – about 90 percent the size of the human genome.

Researchers noted that important developmental genes found in almost all animals were present in single copies only in the giant squid genome.

This means the cephalopod’s immense size is not thanks to whole-genome duplication, a strategy that evolution took long ago to increase the size of vertebrates.

But size wasn’t all they found.

The team also discovered over 100 genes in the squid’s genome that aren’t typically found in other invertebrates, including genes linked to brain development.

“That seemed like a smoking gun to how you make a complicated brain,” said co-author Caroline Albertine.

The study unravels some mysteries about the deep-sea creature, but scientists might need to go 20,000 leagues under the sea to find the real answers.

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