September 14, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

GUINEA

The Price of Democracy

The lives of Guineans and the wallets of industries everywhere were thrown into disarray after a recent coup in the small Western African country of Guinea.

After gunfire erupted in the capital of Conakry, Guinean Army Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, who is affiliated with a group called the National Rally and Development Committee, appeared on TV on Sep. 5 to announce that 83-year-old President Alpha Conde was under arrest, CNN reported.

Formerly an opposition leader and human rights professor who billed himself as “Guinea’s Mandela” – an allusion to the South African freedom fighter – Conde assumed office in 2010, replacing a military junta that had ruled the country for the previous two years. Last year, he controversially won a third term in office after altering the constitution to allow him to run.

He failed to live up to his promises to root out corruption and improve the country’s economy, however. Many of his constituents thought he allowed foreign mining companies to exert too much influence in the country and pollute the environment with impunity.

“Alpha Conde is one of the politicians who worked over 40 years for democracy in Guinea,” human rights expert Alioune Tine told Reuters. “Once in power, he totally destroyed it.”

Critics might question whether Doumbouya will do any better. The European Union is threatening to sanction him and other Guinean officers who allegedly committed human rights violations under Conde, the BBC wrote.

As the world waits to see how the country’s new government will rule, manufacturers around the globe are hoping Doumbouya doesn’t crack down on their operations in the country.

Guinea possesses the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, a source of aluminum, noted CNBC. Bauxite prices spiked after news of the coup spread through boardrooms around the globe. The country also has one of the largest untapped iron deposits.

“The uncertainty in Guinea could put cost pressure on the value chain for anything that contains primary aluminum,” Australian bauxite analyst Alan Clark told the Washington Post. “The consumer pays more.”

Those natural resources could certainly uplift impoverished Guineans, but mining them requires costly infrastructure that the country can hardly afford to build and maintain but which multinational corporations can finance.

It’s no surprise, then, that Doumbouya and his allies have sought to reassure international mining companies they would honor all the contracts that Conde’s government had signed with them, Bloomberg reported.

As some things change, other things won’t – even if some think they should.

WANT TO KNOW

UNITED KINGDOM

Major U-turn

The British government abandoned plans to implement vaccine passports in England even as many countries are requiring their citizens to be vaccinated to curb infections, the Washington Post reported.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government will not require people to provide proof of full vaccination to enter nightclubs and other crowded venues in England, as previously proposed.

The move came after fierce opposition from lawmakers within the ruling Conservative Party, who said the plan affected businesses and infringed civil liberties, and others across the political spectrum.

Javid said that vaccine passports would be kept “in reserve as a potential option” if the coronavirus situation deteriorates. But that was not enough to prevent criticism from the Labour Party, which called the government’s approach to vaccine passports “shambolic from the start.”

The original plan was meant to improve vaccination rates in England, particularly among young people. So far, about 65 percent of England’s population is fully immunized, but the vaccination rates among young people have lagged behind.

The government’s reversal comes in the wake of France and Italy implementing their own version of the vaccine pass in recent weeks. To enjoy certain privileges, people in both countries must prove they have been inoculated, show the results of a negative coronavirus test or prove that they have recovered from Covid-19.

The United States and Russia have ordered employers to require that workers get vaccinated – though not without blowback.

Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, Wales is considering implementing vaccine passports, and people in Scotland will be required to show proof of full vaccination to enter nightclubs and attend large events starting in October.

IRAN

A Moment of Respite

Iran and the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog reached a last-minute agreement this week that will prevent another crisis amid ongoing negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, Al Jazeera reported.

Over the weekend, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), met with Mohammad Eslami, the new chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

The meeting came a few days after two IAEA reports revealed that Iran failed to cooperate with regard to restoring some of the agency’s recording equipment that was damaged in a blast at Iran’s Karaj nuclear plant.

The confidential reports also said that radioactive traces were found at four Iranian sites and that the government has not provided a full explanation on “undeclared nuclear material and activities,” according to the New York Times.

The agency’s board had threatened to censure Iran for noncompliance, but the new hardline government of President Ebrahim Raisi threatened to walk out of the nuclear arms talks in the Austrian capital, Vienna, if the resolution passed.

Following the meeting, Grossi and Eslami reached a temporary resolution to allow IAEA inspectors to service the recording equipment and replace the camera’s memory cards.

However, the contents of the storage cards are still kept in Iran and will only be released when – and if – an agreement is reached that will lift United States sanctions.

The current Vienna talks are aimed at bringing Iran and the US into full compliance with the 2015 deal. The Trump administration withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018 and restored sanctions on Iran.

Tehran later responded by boosting its nuclear program and is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest-ever level.

The Biden administration wants to rejoin the deal, but since June the talks have stalled. The negotiations have also become more complicated following Raisi’s victory in the June presidential elections.

Although he has said he wants to continue the Vienna talks, Raisi also warned he will not engage in negotiations for the sake of negotiations.

ANGOLA

Where It Counts

Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of Angola’s capital, Luanda, this week to protest against a new poll law that critics say will reduce transparency ahead of next year’s general elections, Agence France-Presse reported.

President Joao Lourenco this week introduced the contentious bill, which would centralize vote-counting instead of requiring ballots to be counted at each municipality and province.

Opposition lawmakers abstained or voted against the change and suggested that measures such as biometric identification be adopted to avoid potential fraud. However, the law was approved by Lourenco’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which dominates the country’s parliament.

The move sparked demonstrations over the weekend, with protesters demanding “free and fair elections” and chanting “MPLA get out,” according to Africa News.

Elected in 2017, Lourenco is expected to seek a second term in the 2022 presidential, parliamentary and local elections.

He came to power following the departure of his predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who had ruled Angola since 1979.

DISCOVERIES

Weak Spots

Scientists discovered that solid tumor cancer cells have an “Achilles’ heel” and recently figured out a way to exploit this weakness, according to a University of British Columbia press release.

A research team reported in their study that the solid tumor cells are packed with a special enzyme known as Carbonic Anhydrase IX (CAIX). The cells release this enzyme when acidity increases in the tumor, which allows the tumor to survive acidic conditions and eventually grow.

The researchers noted that specific compounds can hinder the CAIX enzyme and consequently prevent the tumor from growing further. One of these, the SLC-0111 compound, is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials.

However, various properties in the tumor also hamper the effectiveness of the compound, so the authors had to figure out a workaround using genetic analysis.

The team analyzed the genetics of the cancer cells to unveil the biological role of specific genes: In this case, they uncovered the survival mechanisms that the CAIX employed.

The findings allowed researchers to come up with a form of programmed cell death called ferroptosis, in which iron builds up within the cells and impairs the metabolism of the tumors.

In their experiment, they found that cancer cells would stop growing – and eventually die – when researchers targeting CAIX also deployed compounds that promote ferroptosis.

Just like slaying the legendary warrior Achilles, killing cancer requires some finesse.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 225,272,687

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,639,678

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,720,098,198

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

  1. US: 41,221,272 (+0.65%)
  2. India: 33,289,579 (+0.08%)
  3. Brazil: 21,006,424 (+0.03%)
  4. UK: 7,290,168 (+0.42%)
  5. Russia: 7,055,296 (+0.25%)
  6. France: 6,992,980 (+0.03%)
  7. Turkey: 6,682,834 (+0.37%)
  8. Iran: 5,318,327 (+0.43%)
  9. Argentina: 5,226,831 (+0.04%)
  10. Colombia: 4,931,563 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours