The World Today for August 26, 2021

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Fighting the Undertow

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was sworn in as president Tuesday after a stunning defeat of an incumbent bent on staying put and using all the powers of his office to do so.

What’s remarkable, though, is that former President Edgar Lungu, who blocked internet access during the Aug. 12 election, deployed the military to restrict campaigning and alleged the vote was “not free and fair,” conceded on Aug. 16, saying he would comply with the constitution.

The concession cemented “the southern African nation’s reputation as a bulwark of democracy” on the continent, the Wall Street Journal wrote.

Unfortunately, Zambia is swimming against the tide in sub-Saharan Africa these days.

In its latest annual report, Freedom House rated only eight countries in the region as free. Meanwhile, 42 nations were ranked as “partly free” or “not free.” Freedom House noted how the number of “not free” countries in sub-Saharan has grown from 14 in 2006 to 20 in 2021. These maps illustrate the situation well.

The pandemic has been exacerbating the decline of democracy across the continent, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote. More Africans live under authoritarian states today than in the past two decades.

Despite successes in ejecting longtime dictators in Zimbabwe and The Gambia over the past few years, some African leaders have continued to change laws, manipulate courts, crack down on opponents and rig elections to stay in power, said the US-based National Democratic Institute. The pandemic only made things easier for these leaders, providing an excuse to postpone elections – in Somalia and Ethiopia, for example, and crack down on the opposition as in Uganda.

And over the past 20 years, about a dozen African leaders have changed or eliminated constitutional term limits. The latest examples are in Guinea and Ivory Coast: Both held elections last year in which the incumbents were reelected despite legal requirements that they step down.

The result has been the leader-for-life syndrome. More than a half-dozen of Africa’s leaders are among the longest-serving presidents in the world: Equatorial Guinea (President Teodoro Obiang Nguema – 42 years), Congo-Brazzaville (Denis Sassou Nguesso – 37 years) and Cameroon (Paul Biya– 39 years) to name a few.

There are bright spots of political freedom and stability, says Freedom House, such as Cape Verde, Mauritius and Botswana. Officials in South Africa, which is ranked as “free,” ousted and are prosecuting a former president for corruption. And in Ghana’s 2020 election, former President John Mahama, running as the opposition candidate, rejected his defeat until the Supreme Court upheld incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo’s victory. Mahama conceded.

Malawi, meanwhile, became a celebrated example after it overturned a fraudulent election through the courts and did a rerun last year. It was the first do-over election in Africa in which the opposition won.

Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, the victor in that election, warned in Newsweek this week against only looking at the negative examples.

“When the recent election in Zambia defied expectations of violence and contestation with a peaceful transfer of power, few noticed it,” he said. “But here in Africa, democratic backsliding is being reversed when votes for change in Zambia are respected and elections found fraudulent are rejected by the courts and re-run – as they were in Kenya in 2017 and (in) my own Malawi last year.”

He added: “In a world beset by Covid-19, climate change, fear and crisis, it is all too easy to see darkness and miss the light.”



Not Ready To Go

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced he will run next year for vice president in what many critics called an end-run around constitutional term limits, France24 reported Wednesday.

In the Philippines, presidents are limited to a single six-year term. The vice-president is elected separately from the president but takes over for the president if he or she dies or is incapacitated.

Duterte, 76, known for his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs that has killed thousands, said he wanted to “continue the crusade.” “I’m worried about the drugs, the insurgency,” he said on local television.

Polls show Duterte’s popularity ratings remain high.

Before his announcement, many believed he would run on a ticket with his daughter, Sara Duterte, currently the mayor of Davao City, as the presidential candidate. While that is still a possibility, Sara Duterte posted on Facebook Wednesday that her father had told her he would run for vice president on a ticket with his former aide, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go.

If Duterte runs, analysts said he would likely face court challenges from the opposition.

Meanwhile, International Criminal Court prosecutors are examining whether to launch an investigation into the killings of thousands resulting from the crackdown on illegal drugs.


Frenemies and Feuds

Algeria severed diplomatic relations with Morocco on Tuesday, saying hostile actions by its neighbor led to the decision to break ties that had already been strained for decades, Reuters reported.

The announcement comes nearly a week after Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune told a meeting of the High Security Council that “incessant hostile acts” by Morocco mean the need for a revision in relations.

The Algerian foreign minister denounced “massive and systematic acts of espionage” by Morocco, referring to allegations that the kingdom’s security services used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against Algerians, according to Al Jazeera.

Algeria last week blamed lethal wildfires on a group of “terrorists” – the independence movement of the mainly Berber region of Kabylie – it said was backed by Morocco. The forest fires, which broke out on Aug. 9 amid a heatwave, burned tens of thousands of acres of forest and killed at least 90 people.

Morocco denied the claims and said the cutting of ties was “expected,” Morocco’s foreign ministry said. “Morocco categorically rejects the fallacious, even absurd, pretexts underlying it.”

Both countries are allies of Western nations and are important in the fight against terrorism in the nearby Sahel region, where militants have established bases.


Upping the Ante

As European countries move to tighten restrictions on the unvaccinated to protect against Covid-19 transmission and pressure people to get the shots, Greece is upping the ante: It announced Tuesday that unvaccinated workers must get tested one to two times a week at their own cost while making it more onerous for the unvaccinated to access leisure venues, Bloomberg reported.

The restrictions will take effect on Sept. 13.

Under the new regulations, all private and public sector workers without a certificate proving vaccination or recent recovery from Covid-19 will have to take one Covid-19 test per week, two for those working in academia, tourism, restaurants, cafes and bars, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, indoor entertainment venues, restaurants, bars and cafes – and also public transportation – will only be accessible to the vaccinated or recently recovered customers, with verification checks conducted at entrances through an app that scans Covid-19 certificates. Unvaccinated people will be able to enter only with proof of a negative rapid test no older than 48 hours. Masks are mandatory.

Meanwhile, healthcare and care home workers who refuse to get vaccinated will be suspended as of Sept. 1.

Greece has seen a steady increase in confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths over the past several weeks. More than 5.6 million people are now fully vaccinated. Greece has a population of around 11 million.

“Thanks to the vaccine, we will not convert our hospitals again to prioritize those who are seriously ill with Covid,” Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said. “(That) would be both unfair and unethical toward the majority of citizens who have been vaccinated and are suffering from other illnesses, and have a right to proper care.”


Hello There

Humans, chimps and bonobos have more in common than just their DNA – they use salutations such as “hello” and “goodbye” when interacting with one another, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Bonobos and chimps are known as complex social creatures. They share more than 98 percent of their genome with humans.

Researcher Raphaela Heesen became curious about the apes’ interactions after noticing two bonobos repeating a gesture after a grooming session was interrupted. Heesen and her colleagues then recorded more than 1,200 interactions between individual bonobos and chimpanzees during social activities, such as playing and grooming.

They wrote that bonobos would greet their fellow apes 90 percent of the time, while chimpanzees did that about 69 percent of the time. However, farewells were more common in both animals – with 92 percent of bonobos and 86 percent of chimps using these gestures.

The team noted that the interactions involved eye contact and physical touch – such as hand-holding and head-butting – to ensure everyone was on good terms.

Even so, ape power dynamics played a role in the interactions: Salutations were brief if the animals had the same social status but longer if they weren’t. “When you’re interacting with a good friend, you’re less likely to put in a lot of effort in communicating politely,” said Heesen.

Heesen hopes that future research will determine whether these interactions are also present in other animal species.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 213,917,541

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,463,845

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,045,171,931

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 38,223,219 (+0.39%)
  2. India: 32,558,530 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 20,645,537 (+0.15%)
  4. France: 6,757,783 (+0.35%)
  5. Russia: 6,709,605 (+0.28%)
  6. UK: 6,621,799 (+0.54%)
  7. Turkey: 6,273,651 (+0.32%)
  8. Argentina: 5,155,079 (+0.14%)
  9. Colombia: 4,897,150 (+0.05%)
  10. Spain: 4,815,205 (+0.22%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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