February 04, 2020

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

NEED TO KNOW

SOMALIA

Spinning One’s Wheels

Climate change is wreaking havoc in Somalia. People are making it worse.

Massive locust swarms are plaguing the East African country and its neighbors. That’s a problem in a region where many sit on the precipice of famine. A swarm can destroy in a day enough crops to feed 2,500 people, according to the Associated Press.

Warmer temperatures and heavy rains made for ideal conditions for the pests to multiply, climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker told the news agency.

Locusts are just the latest illustration of the challenges that face Somalia. Years of civil war, a hobbled government and foreign interventions have left the country increasingly vulnerable to nature itself.

“People in Ethiopia, Somalia, and other parts of eastern Africa are increasingly caught between deadly extremes,” International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said in a statement. “Conditions are either too wet or too hot and dry. People already on the run from violence may be uprooted again by droughts and floods.”

The population of the capital, Mogadishu, has exploded in recent years as hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people have fled weather disasters as well as fighting in the countryside. More than 800,000 people now live in shantytowns that have sprung up across Mogadishu and its outskirts, overwhelming city services, the Guardian reported.

The rural exodus is occurring because al Shabaab, a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda, is more active in remote regions of Somalia than in the capital. The US now routinely conducts airstrikes against al Shabaab militants, killing more than 800 people in 110 strikes in Somalia since April 2017. Bloomberg had an excellent overview of al Shabaab, mentioning, for instance, that its origins stem from Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia. The think tank Stratfor sees the group growing in the future.

Kenya is also involved in the fight against al Shabaab in Somalia, though policy analyst Abdullahi Boru Halakhe wrote an opinion piece in Al Jazeera about whether Kenya’s intervention had improved things. Al Shabaab militants recently killed an American serviceman and two contractors on a Kenyan military base, reported National Public Radio.

The rule of law, meanwhile, is weak in Somalia. The country fares poorly in corruption indices, for example, appearing recently at the bottom of Transparency International’s rankings, the Washington Post reported.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, widely known by the nickname Farmajo, is trying to consolidate his power as he seeks ways to attract foreign investment, including fighting Kenya on maritime rights and asking for Turkey’s help in drilling for oil off the Somali coast, Middle East Eye wrote.

It’s unfortunate that Farmajo’s best course of action – raising money through oil – eventually produces the problems he needs money to address.

WANT TO KNOW

SYRIA

Eye For An Eye

Turkish forces struck back against Syrian military targets on Monday, following an attack by Syrian government forces that killed eight Turkish army personnel in the restive northwestern region of Idlib, Al Jazeera reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the recent strike killed between 30 and 35 Syrian troops, but Syria’s state news agency SANA denied there were any casualties.

The developments came a day after a large Turkish military convoy moved into the war-torn province amid a new, Russia-backed Syrian government offensive to drive out “terrorists” from the region.

Skirmishes between Turkey and the Syrian government are rare, but the recent clash is likely to increase tensions between them.

It also threatens to cause friction between Turkey and Russia, which have sought to coordinate their actions in Syria following the signing of a 2018 de-escalation agreement by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The recent offensive in Idlib also threatens to cause a humanitarian crisis with almost 390,000 people fleeing their homes, according to the United Nations.

UNITED KINGDOM

Who Needs Rules?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson clashed with the European Union Monday over the a post-Brexit trade deal, a few days after Britain left the bloc, Reuters reported.

Britain wants to negotiate a trade deal by the end of this year, but EU leaders warned that tariffs and quotas might be imposed unless Johnson complied with EU rules.

Johnson stressed that Britain does not need to accept the bloc’s rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection or the environment. Nor is it a question of “deal or no deal,” he added. Rather, he sees it as a choice between a deal like the one Canada enjoys or Australia’s, which runs along basic World Trade Organization rules. Australia is presently in the process of negotiating a trade deal with the EU.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that the bloc wants to reach an ambitious zero-tariffs and zero-quotas trade deal with Britain, while ensuring “common high standards” in competition, labor and environmental standards, and “relevant tax matters.”

Trade talks between the two parties will begin in March.

MALAWI

A Step Forward

Malawi’s constitutional court annulled last year’s elections and called for new polls in a landmark case that analysts have called a step forward for democracy, the Guardian reported.

The court found that there were “widespread, systematic and grave” irregularities in the controversial May elections, including the use of correction fluid to alter votes.

The court ruled that new elections should take place within 150 days.

Incumbent President Peter Mutharika was declared the winner of last year’s election, but his opponents claimed that there were several irregularities that affected 1.4 million of the 5.1 million votes cast.

Since the case began, Malawi was gripped with months-long anti-government protests demanding the resignation of the country’s electoral commission chairwoman, Jane Ansah.

Analysts said that the ruling reinforced a precedent set by Kenyan judges, who annulled the 2017 elections in Kenya on similar grounds and forced a rerun.

Despite worries of growing authoritarianism in Africa, analysts added that judges in African countries have repeatedly challenged autocratic rulers and highlighted official wrongdoing.

DISCOVERIES

Tales from the Crypt

Scientists made the dead talk in a recent study.

A team of researchers re-created the voice of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy using a mix of 3D printing, medical scanners and an electronic larynx, USA Today reported.

The team used the mummified remains of Nesyamun, a scribe and priest who lived during the volatile reign of the pharaoh Ramses XI between 1099 and 1069 BC.

Because the soft tissue in the priest’s vocal tract remained intact through millennia, scientists were able to produce a single vowel sound that was similar to the vowel sounds in the words “bed” and “bad.”

The authors noted that the tone was unlikely to be an exact replication of Nesyamun’s speech, and part of the problem was that his tongue was missing after thousands of years.

“We have made a faithful sound for his tract in its current position, but we would not expect an exact speech match given his tongue state,” said co-author David M. Howard.

It might take time until people can hear the dead speak, but co-author John Schofield said the new technique can be used to help people interpret historical heritage.

Encounters with the past are usually visual, he said. “With this voice we can change that and make the encounter more multidimensional.”