The World Today for May 31, 2021

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Unrecognized, Undaunted

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia 30 years ago as the latter was collapsing. Today, the self-declared sovereign Republic of Somaliland is extremely stable – an outlier in the Horn of Africa – in part because its government accommodates both indigenous Somali as well as Western cultural and legal traditions.

One can even get a “fine camel milkshake” in the peaceful capital of Hargeisa, the Economist noted. Countries like Qatar are expanding their trade and economic ties with the nation. The United Arab Emirates established a military base in the Somaliland port of Berbera. The country instills its citizens with pride.

“These young people have no clue, idea what the identity was before Somaliland. They were born in Somaliland,” Jama Musse Jama, director of the Hargeisa Cultural Center, told Public Radio International, referring to youth participating in a recent 30-year anniversary celebration. “They know only Somaliland, and they consider Somaliland [to be] their identity.”

Yet, as Markus Virgil Hoehne, a lecturer at the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Leipzig in Germany, wrote in an English-language piece in the French news magazine Le Monde diplomatique, Somaliland is still not internationally recognized.

This lack of acknowledgment hasn’t stopped the country from moving forward with politics and matters of government. A record number of voters are expected to cast ballots on May 31 in parliamentary and local elections, reported the East African Business Week News.

Voters elected President Musa Bihi Abdi in 2017, Reuters reported. But they last voted for lawmakers in 2005 and municipal leaders in 2012. A series of delays due to infighting and other issues prevented officials from agreeing on new elections sooner. Many Somalis view the election as a chance to reset the country’s politics, according to a video on the Elephant, a news outlet that focuses on Africa.

In contrast, officials in Somalia have postponed elections to retain their power, setting the stage for civil war, the Brookings Institution wrote in a report, though recently the Associated Press reported that Somalian leaders had agreed on an election date. At the same time, another neighbor, Ethiopia, is waging war against Tigrayan rebels.

Coincidentally, as Garowe Online reported, Puntland, a Somalian state that enjoys considerable independence, is proceeding with elections, too.

Somaliland is far from perfect. President Abdi’s ruling Kulmiye political party has cracked down on journalists, dissidents and others who criticize the government, for example, reported Deutsche Welle.

But the country shows what is possible.



Ghosts of the Past

A mass grave containing the remains of 215 children was found near a former residential school in Canada that was once part of a nationwide effort to separate Indigenous children from their families in an attempt to assimilate them, NPR reported Saturday.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said the remains were found following work with a “ground penetrating radar specialist” to confirm the mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Officials have yet to determine how the children died, but Chief Rosanne Casimir called their deaths an “unthinkable loss,” and said the residential school never documented them – even though the deaths had long been spoken about.

Canada’s residential school system was run by churches and the federal government for more than 150 years, before being shut down in the 1970s. Conditions at the school were poor: Indigenous students were punished if they spoke their language, and many suffered physical and sexual abuse.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation released a report in 2015 in which it described the practices of the institutions as “cultural genocide.” It found that more than 150,000 children attended these schools and more than 6,000 died.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the discovery “a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.”

The story confirming the discovery of the mass grave broke the same day that Trudeau formally apologized for the internment of Italian Canadians during World War Two, according to United Press International.

The Canadian government labeled around 31,000 Italian Canadians as “enemy aliens,” after Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini declared war on the allies in 1940. The detained were neither formally charged nor given a chance to defend themselves in court.


Smear Campaign

French and German social media influencers said earlier this week that they were offered money by a Russian-linked advertising agency to promote false claims intended to discredit Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, New York Magazine reported.

Prominent influencers said that a mysterious company, Fazze, offered them thousands of euros to “explain” to their audience that “the death rate among the vaccinated with Pfizer is almost 3x higher than the vaccine by AstraZeneca.”

Fazze claims to be based in the United Kingdom, but it is not officially registered there and the employees appeared to have worked in Russia before, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Although the AstraZeneca jab has been linked to extremely rare blood clots, European and American regulators have not linked the Pfizer shot with any such side effects. The Pfizer vaccine has therefore been integral in Europe’s vaccination drive.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran called the disinformation attempt “pathetic and dangerous.” Meanwhile, French counterintelligence is investigating whether the Russian government was involved in the smear campaign.

A recent report found that Russia and China have been involved in “state-sponsored disinformation” campaigns to increase hesitancy for any Western-produced vaccines.


Coming to Terms

Germany officially acknowledged committing genocide against Namibian ethnic groups during the colonial period more than a century ago, CNN reported.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said over the weekend that Germany will support Namibia and the victims’ descendants with $1.3 billion for reconstruction and development and ask for forgiveness for the “crimes of German colonial rule.”

The reparations are related to the massacre of up to 80,000 ethnic Herero and Nama by German troops during an anti-colonial uprising between 1904 and 1908. Historians say that the conflict began when the Herero people rebelled against colonial troops over land seizures.

Germany had first offered its formal apology for the conflict in 2004.

The Namibian government welcomed the recent announcement, but victim groups rejected the deal as “a sellout job.” Such critics demand that Germany pay reparations to the descendants of those killed and pushed off their land.

Vekuii Rukoro, the Paramount Chief of Herero people and a lawmaker, said they were not part of the discussion between the German and Namibian governments, which began in 2015.

Friday’s announcement comes a day after French President Emmanuel Macron publicly acknowledged France’s “overwhelming responsibility” in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

France has been accused of failing to prevent the genocide and of supporting the Hutu regime, even after the massacres had started: Hutu militias – supported by the government – killed around 800,000 ethnic Tutsis.


Painted Over

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, is home to the beautiful “Book of Hours,” a Christian devotional manuscript previously owned by Francis I, who later became the Duke of Brittany in France in 1442.

The ornate book also includes a page depicting his second wife, Isabella Stewart – daughter of James I of Scotland – kneeling in front of the Virgin Mary with the figure of St. Catherine behind her.

Now, however, the museum’s curators have discovered via infrared photography a bizarre – and tragic – alteration in the book, according to CNN. The image of Isabella was actually painted over Francis’s first wife, Yolande of Anjou.

Before Isabella, Francis married Yolande, daughter of Yolande of Aragon, Dowager Duchess of Anjou – a former French province in what is now Maine-et-Loire.

The duchess originally commissioned the Book of Hours and later gifted it to her daughter following her marriage to Francis.

The page depicting Isabella originally showed Yolande kneeling and did not include St. Catherine.

Following Yolande’s death in 1440, Francis remarried within two years and ordered his craftsmen to replace his first wife’s image with Isabella’s.

The artists painted over the first wife, adding various features such as Isabella’s coat of arms and a golden jeweled coronet.

The manuscript was altered again for Isabella’s daughter Margaret, who added an extra page with an image of herself kneeling in prayer before the Virgin.

The book is included in a new exhibition titled, “The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces,” which is on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum until Aug. 1.

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: 33,259,430 (+0.02%)
  2. India: 28,047,534 (+0.55%)
  3. Brazil: 16,515,120 (+0.26%)
  4. France: 5,728,418 (+0.15%)
  5. Turkey: 5,242,911 (+0.13%)
  6. Russia: 5,005,171 (+0.00%)
  7. UK: 4,499,937 (+0.07%)
  8. Italy: 4,216,003 (+0.07%)
  9. Argentina: 3,753,609 (+0.57%)
  10. Germany: 3,687,715 (-0.02%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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