The World Today for December 02, 2020

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A Long Shadow

Jerry Rawlings brought military coups, authoritarianism and, ironically, democracy to Ghana. He recently died at the age of 73, bringing an end to a chapter of African history that stretched to the post-colonial period and the continent’s early experiences with independence, the New York Times wrote.

A former Air Force officer, Rawlings launched his first coup in 1979. His second was in 1981. In 1992, he introduced free elections, ran for president and won the first of his two terms.

His rule was harsh. As the BBC explained, he oversaw the executions of former heads of state, army generals and supreme court judges on corruption charges.

“I am still aware that we in Ghana do not like bloodshed,” he said after the judges were put to death. “I personally do not like it. I mean, I’d rather, let’s say, confiscate a man’s wealth and bring him down to the level to which he’s brought us just to give him a taste of what life has been, what he’s done to us.”

Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was Rawlings’ longtime political opponent. “A great tree has fallen, and Ghana is poorer for this loss,” he said, according to the Washington Post, which called the late president as a strongman and populist.

Regardless, Rawling’s long shadow runs over the country and over its upcoming election, where Akufo-Addo is running for his second term. His opponent is John Mahama, who was president from 2012 to early 2017. Mahama is with Rawling’s center-left National Democratic Congress, while Akufo-Addo is with the conservative New Patriotic Party. Mahama has been hammering the incumbent for his softness on corruption, according to GhanaWeb, a local news outlet.

Rawlings, however flawed, helped create a democracy where around 70 percent of voters turned out to cast ballots in 2016. He began as a socialist but embraced free-market reforms. The country has been held up as a model for Africa in terms of political and economic stability and democratic progress, civil freedoms and a vigorous press. It’s exported crime fiction around the world. Vogue recently wrote a piece pegged to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Accra in the Ghanaian capital. The Guardian described the scene as a “feelgood fashion” world oozing with “vital energy.”

Regardless of the international success of a regional African culture industry, Ghanaian journalist Audrey Donkor noted in Foreign Policy magazine that other surveys suggest Ghanaian voters are less engaged politically than the high turnout might suggest. Many never engage with public officials because they don’t expect the government to do anything for them, she said.

Meanwhile, there are concerns over the election, specifically that the election commission may be less than impartial and that the vote might end up disputed and fuel tensions in the country, reported defenceWeb, an African news portal.

Still, public demands for better infrastructure, expanded high school offerings and financing for new businesses to create jobs might inspire officials to reach toward those goals, Donkor wrote. In the Conversation, Humboldt University and University of Cambridge scholars described the housing crisis in the city of Kumasi, illustrating the challenges that people in the former British colony face.

Ghana faces problems. But the good news is that most of these problems are the issues of societies that are, for the most part, well-fed and well-cared for, ones where a peaceful transfer of power is assumed and where voters can expect to be heard on Election Day – even if it’s only then.



A Universal Loss

Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory collapsed Tuesday, stunning the international scientific community, which had relied on the radio telescope for more than five decades, the Associated Press reported.

The collapse occurred when the telescope’s 900-ton receiver platform fell onto the reflector dish more than 400 feet below. Before Tuesday’s incident, the telescope had already been damaged when an auxiliary cable snapped in August. A main cable broke last month.

Originally built in the 1960s by the United States Department of Defense, the telescope – once the largest in the world – had survived hurricanes, tropical humidity and recent earthquakes.

Before the accident, the US National Science Foundation had announced that the Arecibo Observatory would be closed, prompting scientists to petition US officials and others to reverse the decision.

Scientists called the collapse “a huge loss:” The telescope has been used to track asteroids on a path toward Earth, conduct Nobel Prize-winning research and determine which planets are potentially habitable.


The Great Race

Britain is racing to become the first Western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing it will be available within a few weeks, the Washington Post reported.

Britain’s National Health Service has advised hospitals and clinics that they could be receiving vaccine doses as soon as early December even as the country’s drug regulator has declined to confirm the ambitious deadlines.

The suggested timeline would be quicker than the United States or the European Union: The US Food and Drug Administration said it won’t make a regulatory decision before Dec. 10 while the EU’s regulator estimates a timeline ranging from the end of this year to early 2021.

The UK government has placed its hopes on vaccines developed by US-based Pfizer and a homegrown offering from Oxford University and AstraZeneca. It’s also considering inoculations from the American company Moderna: Both Pfizer and Moderna have an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent in trials.

However, the AstraZeneca vaccine is the cheapest and the easiest to store and distribute because it doesn’t need special freezers to store the vaccine.

Johnson’s announcement comes just after police clashed with anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protesters over the weekend.

And on Tuesday, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove dismissed reports that people would need “vaccine passports” to frequent pubs or sporting events, according to the Guardian.


A Terrible Choice

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a weekend attack that killed scores of rice farmers in Nigeria’s northern Borno state, the Nigerian-based Guardian newspaper reported.

On Tuesday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau confirmed that the insurgent group was responsible for the killings in Koshebe village on Saturday, as well as the murder of 22 farmers a month earlier. Ten women remain missing from the village in Saturday’s attack.

Shekau said that the recent massacre was in retaliation for villagers disarming one fighter and handing him over to authorities last week.

The farmers took action because Boko Haram fighters often force villagers to pay ‘taxes’ by taking their livestock or crops, the Washington Post reported.

Borno state, internationally known for the kidnapping of almost 300 schoolgirls in Chibok by Boko Haram in 2014, has been plagued by violence and insecurity since the rise of the militant group in 2002. Aligned with Islamic State since 2015, the militant group has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more in parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

In Borno State, the group’s base, governor Babagana Zulum said that residents are facing desperate choices.

“If they stay at home, they may be killed by starvation,” he said. “If they go out to their farmlands and risk getting killed by the insurgents.”


The Biology of Time

People remember some events in great detail, including the time, place and sequence.

Scientists call these “episodic memories” and have recently discovered the cells responsible for making these vivid recollections possible, NPR reported.

Dubbed “time cells,” these put a time-stamp on memories as they are being formed, allowing people to accurately recall their past experiences.

Researchers have noticed the cells in rodents but a new study spotted their presence in the human brain’s hippocampus and another area that involves navigation, memory and time perception.

In their experiment, a research team analyzed the brains of 27 people awaiting surgery for severe epilepsy. The patients were asked to study word sequences during a 30-second period then quizzed to recall what they saw.

The team noted that a particular number of cells would fire at specific times during each sequence of words.

They explained that the time-stamps helped people remember the exact time and sequence of the words. It also clarifies why people with a damaged hippocampus have memory problems – they lack time cells.

However, researcher György Buzsáki, who edited the study, added that these cells don’t work at a steady pace but rather speed up or slow down depending on various factors.

“When you have to wait for the elections, then every day is a long day,” he said. “But when you are having a good time, time flies.”

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 13,725,916 (+1.34%)
  2. India: 9,499,413 (+0.39%)
  3. Brazil: 6,386,787 (+0.80%)
  4. Russia: 2,327,105 (+1.09%)
  5. France: 2,275,429 (+0.02%)
  6. Spain: 1,656,444 (+0.50%)
  7. UK: 1,647,230 (+0.83%)
  8. Italy: 1,620,901 (+1.21%)
  9. Argentina: 1,432,570 (+0.56%)
  10. Colombia: 1,324,792 (+0.61%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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