February 07, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

CAMEROON

A Question of Legitimacy

Around 50,000 Cameroonian refugees have been flooding into Nigeria in recent weeks.

They fear violence will flare up in the run-up to Cameroon’s local and parliamentary elections on February 9, wrote Voice of America.

Four years ago, civil unrest overtook the Central African country’s English-speaking regions when lawyers and teachers staged demonstrations against the dominance of the French language in the courts and education system. President Paul Biya cracked down, fueling the growth of an insurgency whose militants are calling for the creation of a new English-speaking country called “Ambazonia.”

At least 3,000 people have died in the violence between separatist fighters and the country’s military. The UN, via ReliefWeb, produced an excellent image that conveys the scale of the tragedy including the flight of refugees.

More might perish in light of the separatists’ calls for English-speaking voters to boycott the coming elections. They’ve attacked election officials and others who represent Biya’s government and announced restrictions on people’s movement between February 7 and 12.

“On these days, anyone seen anywhere outside in our towns and villages will be considered an enemy and treated as such,” the Ambazonia Defense Forces said in a statement cited in the Journal du Cameroun, via Deutsche Welle. “The information is released at this point to enable the civilian population to take appropriate measures to stay safe.”

Infighting in the Ambazonia ranks might also be a cause of concern. If the armed separatists can’t fight central government troops, they turn to internal disputes.

“Local people are afraid, threatened and lack confidence because the government fails to guarantee their safety,” said Njong Evaristus Ndim, a leader in the opposition Social Democratic Front, in an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu Agency. “Meanwhile, the armed groups forbid them to take part in voting. How are these people supposed to go and vote? And if they don’t, who will be their local leaders?”

Some argue that Biya has yet to seriously address Anglophone citizens’ concerns.

In addition to vowing to quash the insurgency, Biya has decided to grant “special status” to the two English-speaking provinces in question. But, writing in African Arguments, R. Maxwell Bone, who’s vice president of the International Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development, and Akem Kelvin Nkwain, a human rights activist, contended that those changes are mostly cosmetic and won’t quiet the central government’s detractors.

Biya will need to do more to convince some of his restive countrymen that their votes matter.

WANT TO KNOW

SAUDI ARABIA

Twisted Reforms

Amnesty International released a report Thursday detailing how Saudi Arabia used a special terrorism court to silence activists and dissenters, despite the implementation of several reforms in recent years, the Guardian reported.

The report covers 95 cases heard at the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh. It found that the judicial process was “tainted with human rights abuses,” including the use of torture to extract confessions.

The SCC was originally established in 2008 to try people accused of terror-related crimes, but the court has primarily targeted activists, journalists, lawyers, and members of the country’s Shia minority.

The kingdom’s official human rights commission responded by offering a summary of the relevant laws and court procedures but failed to address any of the individual cases raised in the report.

Saudi Arabia has implemented several reforms since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed heir to the throne in 2017, such as allowing women to drive and curbing the powers of the country’s morality police.

Nevertheless, the reforms were accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

BRAZIL

Shifting Priorities

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro unveiled a bill earlier this week that would allow commercial mining and hydroelectric projects on indigenous land, sparking concern from environmentalists and tribal leaders, the Financial Times reported.

The new law will be presented to Congress this week as part of Bolsonaro’s plan to tackle the country’s poverty.

“It is an economic activity that generates wealth and job creation,” said Brazil’s Mining Secretary Alexandre Vidigal de Oliveira on Thursday.

Several lawmakers, however, called the bill “a return to colonial Brazil” and vowed to oppose it in Congress.

Bolsonaro’s administration has received a lot of domestic and international criticism for its environmental policies, as well as its role in handling the Amazon fires last year.

The far-right president has lamented that Brazil’s indigenous population occupies a lot of land. Almost 13 percent of Brazilian territory is demarcated as tribal land.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, argue that the protected land is an integral component in the fight against climate change.

CHINA

Nothing To See Here

The Chinese doctor who blew the whistle before the outbreak of a novel coronavirus died Thursday after becoming infected from the virus last month, CNN reported.

Li Wenliang’s death sparked anger and grief among China’s social media users, many of whom have been frustrated at the government’s handling of the outbreak that has killed more than 600 people in China, CBNC reported.

The doctor initially warned people about the new pathogen on Dec. 30 when he posted on social media that seven patients from a seafood market in Wuhan were diagnosed with a SARS-like illness and were quarantined in his hospital.

Wuhan authorities intercepted his post and held an emergency meeting the next day to determine the severity of the outbreak. They later warned the World Health Organization about the new virus.

Authorities, however, accused Li of “spreading rumors online” and “severely disrupting social order” for his post and ordered him to sign a statement acknowledging his “misdemeanor.”

Since the outbreak, Chinese officials have been trying to control the flow of information as the number of cases increases, according to the New York Times.

The virus has infected more than 30,000 people globally, including the United States and Britain.

DISCOVERIES

Motivation to Quit

The human body’s ability to heal surprises scientists once again.

A recent study found that human lungs have a “magical” ability to heal some of the damage from smoking as long as a person quits, according to the BBC.

Chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the DNA in lung cells, causing mutations that slowly change them from healthy to cancerous.

Researchers discovered that a small percentage of the cells in the major airways of the lungs escaped this damage.

Once a person stopped smoking, these cells grew and replaced the damaged ones.

“One of the remarkable things was patients who had quit, even after 40 years of smoking, had regeneration of cells that were totally unscathed by the exposure to tobacco,” said co-author Peter J. Campbell.

Campbell’s team remains perplexed as to what causes these cells to remain healthy, quipping that the cells appeared to “exist in a nuclear bunker.”

They added that more research is needed to determine how much of the lung is repaired, but the study does offer some incentive to people who are trying to quit smoking.

The American Lung Association said that between 2005 and 2010 an average of more than 130,000 Americans died of smoking-attributable lung cancer each year.