The World Today for June 30, 2021

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Who Matters?

Angelina Jolie recently visited war-ravaged Burkina Faso to bring attention to – and generate help for – the plight of people fleeing violence and struggling with displacement.

“The humanitarian crisis in the Sahel seems to me to be totally neglected. It is treated as being of little geopolitical importance,” the Hollywood actress and Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the Associated Press. “There’s a bias in the way we think about which countries and which people matter.”

As the CIA World Factbook explained, Burkina Faso had already endured coups and instability since independence from France in 1960. The reelection of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore in 2020 signaled a hoped-for transition to peace and prosperity.

Instead, Burkina Faso’s military has continued to fight Al Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated insurgents as they have for more than five years. The fight has claimed 4,000 lives and displaced more than 1 million people. Another 22,000 refugees, mostly Malians, are also in the landlocked West African country.

Recently, the country’s forces killed 11 jihadists and found explosives, arms, communications equipment and other supplies, the Defense Post reported. That attack was in response to jihadists killing at least 160 people in the northern village of Solhan a few days before, the worst such incident in years, wrote the BBC. Victims said the “barbaric” attackers burned homes and the local market.

“They executed them, purely and simply, and then burned the market, houses and shops, and the vehicles, lorries and transport parked outside,” said Catholic Bishop Laurent Dabire, according to Crux.

As National Public Radio explained, the village was in the Sahel region on the edge of the Sahara Desert where Islamic militants have taken refuge when not rampaging through Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. The region is also a hub of human trafficking between Africa and Europe.

American, European and French forces have been stationed in the country for years to help local forces quash the Islamist insurgency. But Al Jazeera concluded that the Solhan attack illustrated how the military alliance’s campaign has failed to achieve its objective while innocent civilians pay the price.

Sound like Iraq? Afghanistan? Some analysts say so. And now, like those two countries, thousands of troops – here, French troops – are now slated to leave under a realignment of forces that French President Emmanuel Macron announced recently. Locals are not rejoicing. As Deutsche Welle explained, critics said they were leaving Burkina Faso vulnerable.

That could be true. But it certainly will take more than bullets and bombs to fix Burkina Faso.



The Creaky Wheels of Justice

South Africa’s Constitutional Court convicted former President Jacob Zuma to 15 months in prison for contempt of court Tuesday, after he refused to appear before a commission investigating corruption during his nine years in office, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Judges accused the former leader and anti-apartheid activist of risking a constitutional crisis by failing to follow an order by the country’s top court to appear at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.

Zuma created the commission before stepping down from the presidency in 2018 following pressure from his African National Congress party.

Since its inception, the government-appointed commission has listened to testimony on how he and members of his government allegedly allowed well-connected businessmen and foreign companies to score overpriced government contracts in return for payments and other favors.

Zuma has appeared only once before the commission – in 2019 – and has rejected the allegations as a smear campaign organized by foreign intelligence agencies and remnants of the country’s apartheid-era security services.

He also did not appear at Tuesday’s ruling. The court said that he must turn himself in within five days.

The verdict marks the first time Zuma has faced legal consequences after being dogged by allegations of corruption for more than 20 years.

The former leader is also facing other charges related to corruption, fraud and money laundering over a 1999 arms deal.


More, and Less

The European Council adopted a climate change law this week that legally obliges European Union nations to collectively slash greenhouse emissions and become net-zero-emission economies by 2050, CNN reported.

The new law is part of the European Union’s 2019 European Green Deal and comes after the bloc and other nations pledged to cut greenhouse gases and reach carbon neutrality at a virtual climate change summit hosted by US President Joe Biden in April.

Under the legislation, the EU’s 27 countries will be required to cut their emissions by 55 percent by 2030 over 1990 levels. The bloc’s nations will also work to reach net-zero emissions in less than 30 years, which means the number of greenhouse gases emitted will be no greater than the amount removed from the atmosphere, largely through a method known as carbon capture.

The ambitious package also creates a negative carbon economy after 2050 where it removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits.

The current increase in pledges is aimed at keeping the average global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial levels and well below two degrees.

EU officials hailed the legislation but some scientists and environmentalist groups criticized some of the plans and policies: They warned that the technology for carbon capture is not fully developed and that the more ambitious pledges do not go far enough.


Take a Breath

Ethiopia declared an immediate ceasefire in the war-torn region of Tigray this week, putting a pause to nearly eight months of conflict marked by allegations of human rights abuses and fears of famine, CBS News reported.

The armistice came after Tigray’s interim administration – appointed by the federal government – fled the regional capital, Mekele, as Tigrayan forces took control of the airport and other key areas in the city.

The federal government called for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds so that desperately needed aid can be delivered. The truce will last until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray in September.

Officials also ordered all federal and regional authorities to respect the ceasefire but maintained that the army will still be searching for the leaders of Tigray’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Tigrayan leaders, meanwhile, rejected the ceasefire as a “sick joke” and said they will “stop at nothing to liberate every square inch” of the region of 6 million people, reported the Associated Press.

The announcement comes as Ethiopia awaits the results of national elections Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has promoted as the centerpiece of reforms that won him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Abiy, who came to power in 2018 on a reform platform, has appalled international observers since fighting erupted in Tigray in November.

Since the war began, reports of sexual violence, war crimes and famine have emerged in the region: Thousands have been killed and approximately 1.6 million people have been displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the UN’s children’s agency said at least 33,000 severely malnourished children face an “imminent risk of death” without more aid reaching Tigray’.

Analysts said that the ceasefire will calm the conflict that has destabilized Africa’s second-most populous country and threatened the Horn of Africa region, where Ethiopia has been seen as a key security ally for the West.


Unlikely Friendship

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but for crows, it’s really ants that do it.

Photographer Tony Austin captured a rare and unusual “anting” on his nature walk in Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in British Columbia, Canada, reported National Public Radio.

While on his walk, Austin was mystified by the sight of a crow that was seemingly unbothered by being covered in large black ants. He posted his snapshot on a local wildlife photography Facebook group to solve the mystery.

A user quickly put his confusion to rest, writing that the crow was “anting” – spreading ants on its feathers and wings.

Anting has been observed in about 200 bird species, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

While some birds will sit still on an anthill and allow ants to crawl freely through their feathers and wings, others will pick up the insects with their beaks and rub themselves with them.

However, the reason why crows perform this ‘ant bath’ remains unclear. Still, scientists have a theory.

“Ants have defensive secretions, chemical weapons they use to fight off other insects and fungi, so if you smear what they’ve got all over your feathers, you’re stealing their fungicides, miticides, insecticides and biocides,” NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich said.

Another theory suggests the birds might use ants like an “avian after-shave,” to soothe their skin after molting feathers.

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: 33,651,924 (+0.03%)
  2. India: 30,362,848 (+0.15%)
  3. Brazil: 18,513,305 (+0.35%)
  4. France: 5,835,885 (+0.06%)
  5. Russia: 5,428,961 (+0.37%)
  6. Turkey: 5,420,156 (+0.11%)
  7. UK: 4,791,628 (+0.42%)
  8. Argentina: 4,447,701 (+0.54%)
  9. Italy: 4,259,133 (+0.02%)
  10. Colombia: 4,213,074 (+0.62%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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