April 21, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

TANZANIA

Denier-In-Chief

The president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, denied that Covid-19 was real. The virus likely proved him wrong.

It may have claimed his life on March 17.

As CNN explained, the late 61-year-old president officially died from heart failure, which officialdom maintains he had been fighting for years. But opposition figures said that credible government officials told them Magufuli was yet another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. He hadn’t been seen in public since Feb. 25, leading to speculation over his health while his representatives insisted he was fine even as he remained offstage.

The irony was that Magufuli was among the world’s most outspoken critics of public health measures designed to stop the spread.

“Vaccines don’t work,” he said in a speech in January, according to the New York Times. “If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, then vaccines for AIDS would have been brought. Vaccines for tuberculosis would have made it a thing of the past. Vaccines for malaria would have been found. Vaccines for cancer would have been found.”

Magufuli was first elected in 2015 as a reformer. Tanzania had been a “beacon of stability in East Africa since it secured independence from Britain in the early 1960s,” wrote the Washington Post’s obituary. He cracked down on public corruption, ending no-show jobs, imposed higher taxes on foreign businesses and launched an infrastructure program.

But he also moved his East African nation closer to authoritarianism.

He closed down newspapers and television stations that ran critical stories of his administration. He tortured musicians who sang songs criticizing him. Magufuli charged detractors with sedition, “immorality” or “insulting” the head of state.

“Critics said he was an autocrat with thin skin, a man obsessed with building a personality cult and who did not entertain any slights or jests whether from musicians, comedians or commentators on social media,” the BBC wrote.

Magufuli’s death is a chance for Tanzania to move on, says Human Rights Watch. His successor, President Samia Suluhu Hassan can uphold human rights and initiate a process to heal and ensure accountability for the abuses of the late president’s regime.

Hassan is already pursuing a U-turn in Covid-19-related policies, Bloomberg reported. She’s appointing an expert panel to develop a plan to curb the spread of the virus. She also moved to settle tax disputes with international businesses and cut red tape that is now holding up foreign investment in mining and other extraction projects. Meanwhile, she is lifting bans on new online television channels and other media enterprises – and is inspiring hope for the repeal of a law passed in 2018 that imposes jail terms for questioning the accuracy of official statistics.

Hassan says she’s not interested in isolation either: She’s already trying to improve Tanzania’s relations with the international community after ties with the US and other Western nations were strained by Magufuli’s clampdown on civil liberties and his disputed reelection last year – the opposition has been all but wiped out, reported the Conversation.

While Magufuli’s authoritarian tendencies are not out of the norm in Tanzania, many are hoping Hassan will break the mold, at least a little.

But first, it will take time to repair the damage done.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

The Prisoner and the Tyrant

The Russian government is facing rising pressure to release opposition politician Alexei Navalny, whose declining health and prison treatment has sparked calls for protests and international condemnation, Al Jazeera reported Tuesday.

Navalny, 44, declared a hunger strike last month after accusing prison officials of failing to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain. Since then, reports about his declining health and warnings that he “could die at any moment” prompted officials to move him to a hospital for prisoners.

Authorities said this week that his condition has been deemed “satisfactory” even as Navalny’s lawyers and doctors have been unable to confirm that.

There has been an outcry over his treatment and his supporters are planning to stage mass protests Wednesday.

Navalny’s condition also prompted Western countries to condemn the Kremlin: The United States and the European Union have urged the Russian government to grant Navalny immediate access to medical treatment and have called for his release.

The Biden administration said that Moscow will be held accountable for the opposition leader’s fate.

The Kremlin critic was arrested earlier this year following his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from being poisoned with a nerve agent, an attempt on his life that he blames on Russian officials.

He was later sentenced to prison for violating the terms of a previous suspended sentence, sparking mass demonstrations around the country.

The Russian government denies poisoning him and has criticized calls to release him as foreign interference.

CHAD

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Chadian President Idriss Déby died Tuesday after sustaining injuries in clashes between rebel forces and government troops, ending his more than 30-year rule of the impoverished, oil-producing northern African country, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The military announced Tuesday that the president was at the frontlines in northern Chad when he was injured in a battle with rebels from the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT).

His death comes just a few hours after election officials declared him the winner of presidential elections held earlier this month. Following his death, the military said that a transitional council will be led by Déby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, CBS News reported.

The circumstances surrounding the president’s death remain unclear and could not be independently confirmed due to the remote location of the battlefield.

The longtime ruler had originally come to power in 1990 following a coup that ousted then-President Hissene Habre, who was later convicted of human rights abuses at an international tribunal in Senegal.

Throughout his rule, Déby remained a staunch ally of France and the United States in the fight against Boko Haram militants. He had also survived numerous coups and rebellions.

The recent insurgency began when FACT entered the country from neighboring Libya during the April 11 elections. The rebel group is believed to have been armed and trained in Libya.

Although the military announced earlier this week that it had killed about 300 rebels, the US government ordered all nonessential staff of its embassy in Chad to leave the country fearing that rebels would advance on the capital.

GERMANY

The Unsure Candidate

Armin Laschet will run as the center-right candidate to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming elections, ending a long period of speculation on who would replace the EU’s longest-serving and most powerful leader, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Laschet, the leader of Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), received more than 77 percent of the vote, defeating his rival Markus Söder, who heads the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialist Union.

The vote, however, was marked by an intense debate between party members: Analysts noted that Söder has led in public polling and remains a popular figure among the party’s youth wing and some CDU state leaders, the Guardian reported.

Söder, nevertheless, accepted Laschet’s victory, saying that only a united party could win. Elections are set for Sept. 26.

The CDU elected Laschet as its leader in January and his nomination highlights the party’s willingness to continue in Merkel’s vein: The chancellor candidate is known for his liberal politics, passion for the EU and ability to connect with immigrant communities.

Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, said in late 2018 that she would step down this year.

Despite the desire to maintain the chancellor’s policies, the conservative alliance has been facing a decline in popularity following the coronavirus pandemic.

Coupled with an internal rift over Laschet’s position, the center-right party has slipped to about 27 percent in the polls and is currently facing pressure from the Green party.

The Greens picked co-leader Annalena Baerbock as its candidate for chancellor: Baerbock and her co-leader Robert Habeck have unified the fractious party under a manifesto that includes stronger climate targets and a tougher position on Russia.

DISCOVERIES

Children of the Vial

Scientists have been able to grow mice embryos outside a womb, marking the first time a mammal has developed outside a uterus, Endgadget reported.

The mechanical womb used to nurture the embryos – which took researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel seven years to develop – is composed of two parts, an incubator and a ventilation system.

In their experiments, researchers took the embryos from their mothers’ wombs and placed them in different vials filled with a special nutrient-laden fluid. A wheel gently spun the embryos to prevent them from attaching to the vial’s walls to prevent them from harm.

Meanwhile, the ventilator provided the growing mice with oxygen and maintained the environment’s flow and pressure.

The team reported that the lab-grown embryos were similar to their “natural” siblings but, sadly, could not develop into full-grown mice: The mechanical womb can sustain the embryos only for 11 days. A mouse, however, needs at least 20 days to gestate for survival outside the womb.

Researchers said that the embryos will need a blood supply, which they plan to implement in the future.

Although some are concerned the experiment is too intrusive on natural processes, the team says its research is aimed at studying how factors like genetic mutations and environmental conditions can affect the growth of a fetus while inside the womb.

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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: 31,793,035 (+0.17%)
  2. India: 15,616,130 (+1.93%)
  3. Brazil: 14,043,076 (+0.50%)
  4. France: 5,401,305 (+0.82%)
  5. Russia: 4,665,553 (+0.17%)
  6. UK: 4,408,644 (+0.06%)
  7. Turkey: 4,384,624 (+1.41%)
  8. Italy: 3,891,063 (+0.31%)
  9. Spain: 3,428,354 (+0.00%)**
  10. Germany: 3,198,534 (+0.99%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country