June 07, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

KENYA

Tribal Laws

Violence frequently mars elections in Kenya. As the Council on Foreign Relations explained, voters in the East African country identify with politicians through their ancestral tribes, setting the stage for political disputes to turn personal. In 2007, for example, clashes after a vote left more than 1,100 people dead.

In a bid to reduce violence in next year’s general election, President Uhuru Kenyatta and other leaders wanted to change the country’s constitution to create a prime minister and other offices so that more ethnic groups would receive a chance to serve in leadership roles, Bloomberg reported. Currently, Kenya has a winner-take-all system where whoever wins the presidency controls the government.

They assembled five million signatures and scheduled a referendum so that citizens could approve or reject the constitutional changes, which Kenyatta and other boosters called the Building Bridges Initiative.

The issue was immediately controversial. Critics said it would expand government, helping nobody but corrupt politicians. Deputy President William Ruto, usually Kenyatta’s ally, scandalously broke with the president and opposed the move, saying it was a backdoor way of removing him from power, Africanews wrote.

Ruto is an ethnic Kalenjin who is slated to become the next presidential candidate for Kenyatta’s Jubilee political party in 2022 after the president leaves office due to term limits. He claims that Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga are pushing for the reforms to keep their two ethnic groups – the Kikuyu and Luo, respectively – in power indefinitely. Kenyatta would be an obvious candidate for the prime minister’s job, for example.

Some observers agreed. “It is very clear that some of these alignments are to sideline him,” Kenyan anti-corruption activist John Githongo told Reuters.

Then a Kenyan court seemingly solved Ruto’s problem for him, striking down the referendum proposal, saying only a grass-root citizens movement – not the president and other elected officials – could initiate the process to alter the country’s government. “A popular initiative to amend the constitution can only be started by the people, not by the government,” said the judges, according to the BBC.

The court even said Kenyans could personally sue Kenyatta or lawmakers could impeach the president to hold him liable for his actions. Foreign Policy magazine praised the court for acting independently, in the interests of the law over powerful politicians.

Kenyatta and his allies have appealed the ruling, Al Jazeera reported.

Kenyans ultimately will have to decide what’s better – a system of tribal loyalties, a potentially compromised reform proposal or a third way. Regardless, some observers believe something has to change.

WANT TO KNOW

WORLD

Building a Net

The Group of Seven countries reached a landmark deal over the weekend to set a global corporate tax rate, a move that aims to revamp a century-old international tax code and cool transatlantic tensions, Bloomberg reported.

Finance ministers of the G7 – including the United States and France – agreed during a meeting in London to set the minimum global tax rate to “at least 15 percent” on foreign earnings of multinationals. This would allow countries to impose levies on big transnational firms such as Amazon and Facebook.

The agreement has been hailed as a historic move and an important step in amending a global system that critics say has allowed big companies to save billions of dollars in tax bills by shifting jurisdictions.

G7 officials said that the new rules would apply to “the largest and most profitable multinational enterprises.”

The deal comes following years of tensions between Europe and the United States during the Trump administration: Former President Donald Trump refused to allow foreign governments to tax American tech giants and instead threatened to impose trade tariffs.

Following the deal’s announcement, large multinationals noted that the agreement could clear up rules on where to pay taxes.

However, analysts said that key details of the agreement remain unclear and the implementation of the tax could take years.

The focus will now shift to a July meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers in Italy and long-running talks between about 140 countries at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

BURKINA FASO

Empty Assurances

Unknown gunmen killed at least 130 people in Burkina Faso’s volatile north over the weekend in what has been described as the deadliest attack in years in the West African country amid an ongoing Islamist insurgency, Al Jazeera reported.

The assailants raided Solhan village in Yagha province, which borders Niger, killing its residents – including seven children – and wounding 40 others. The attackers also burned homes and the village market.

The government described the killings as “barbaric” and the United Nations called on countries to step up the fight against “violent extremism.”

The massacre is the latest to affect Burkina Faso, which has been plagued with deadly attacks from groups linked to al-Qaeda and more recently to Islamic State since 2015.

Although no group claimed responsibility, Corinne Dufka of Human Rights Watch said the assault followed a familiar pattern seen elsewhere in the Sahel region this year: She said that armed groups would initially fight civil defense groups and then “engage in collective punishment against the rest of the village.”

The Solhan attack comes just weeks after government and military officials visited the neighboring town of Sebba to reassure people that life had returned to normal.

Some 1.2 million people have been displaced in Burkina Faso because of the conflict despite the presence of thousands of French troops and other international and regional forces across the Sahel.

NICARAGUA

A Rigged Game

Nicaraguan authorities arrested opposition leader Arturo Cruz over the weekend, the second arrest in less than a week against potential opponents of President Daniel Ortega in the upcoming elections, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Cruz was arrested on charges of “conspiring against Nicaraguan society”: He was the first person to be arrested under a law that came into force in December, which bans actions that promote foreign interference into Nicaraguan affairs and serve to destabilize the country’s government.

His arrest came four days after the detention of another opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro on allegations of money laundering. Chamorro currently leads the opposition to Ortega in the polls.

The United States condemned the detentions and called for the politicians’ immediate release. Advocacy groups said that the arrests were a “sham” and underscored Ortega’s repressive policies against political opponents and the country’s independent media.

Ortega has been in power since 2007 and is running for a fourth consecutive term in the November elections. The president first came to power in 1979 after leading Marxist guerrillas in the Sandinista revolution that overthrew a longtime dictatorship headed by the late Anastasio Somoza.

His Sandinista government faced massive street protests in 2018 over proposed reforms to the state social security institute, which later became a call for sweeping changes in the Central American country, according to Crux.

More than 300 people were killed, most by police and allied government paramilitary forces, according to human-rights organizations.

DISCOVERIES

The Devil You Know

It’s been more than 3,000 years since the last Tasmanian devil roamed the Australian continent.

Now, the Aussie Ark wildlife sanctuary in New South Wales announced that seven little devils were born in the wild, raising hopes about the creatures’ survival.

Biologist and conservationist Jeff Corwin told Fox News that the announcement was “a glimmer of hope” in a world dealing with “a lot of environmental darkness and despair.”

The marsupial is currently only found on the island of Tasmania located nearly 150 miles south of the Australian mainland. There are about 25,000 devils in the Tasmanian wilderness and the creature has been listed as endangered on the United Nations’ Red List.

Corwin described the animal as the “poster child for imperiled wildlife and extinction,” saying that it is a very resilient and great predator.

“But, they really were not equipped to take on a number of challenges and really were ill-equipped for things like invasive species – especially dogs,” he added.

Although the devil was once known as the “Satanic flesh-lover,” Corwin noted that it is in fact very “sweet-natured” and nothing like the cartoon character Taz the Tasmanian Devil – known for his incomprehensible babble and his ability to spin like a vortex.

He added that preserving Tasmanian devils will help protect other creatures which are part of Australia’s ecosystem: The country lost nearly three billion animals to wildfires in 2019 and early last year.

“What we see is inspiration and motivation to apply that method of recovery to other species,” Corwin said.

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: 33,362,629 (+0.02%)
  2. India: 28,909,975 (+0.35%)
  3. Brazil: 16,947,062 (+0.23%)
  4. France: 5,774,361 (+0.09%)
  5. Turkey: 5,287,980 (+0.10%)
  6. Russia: 5,067,246 (+0.18%)
  7. UK: 4,532,802 (+0.12%)
  8. Italy: 4,232,428 (+0.05%)
  9. Argentina: 3,955,439 (+0.42%)
  10. Germany: 3,708,898 (+0.05%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

Correction: In Friday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “Now What” item that 1948 was a year that Israelis mark as the birth of their nation but which Palestinians call the “Catastrophe” to mark the Israeli occupation of their territory in Gaza and the West Bank. It was in fact Jordan which occupied land that became known as the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza, according to the BBC explainer we cited. Jerusalem was divided between Israeli forces in the West, and Jordanian forces in the East. We apologize for the error.