October 12, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Going Nowhere Fast

SOUTH SUDAN

Recent fighting over cattle rustling, kidnappings and revenge killings has claimed scores of lives and injured many more in South Sudan’s central Warrap State over the past few months.

Such violence has surged throughout South Sudan in the past two years, wrote Xinhua, China’s state news service. The Catholic Church, for example, recently expressed frustration over investigators’ lack of progress in solving the murder of two nuns, Catholic News Service reported.

Ten years after the country voted to secede from Sudan and three years after a peace agreement ended a bloody civil war between ethnic forces led by President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, unstable South Sudan is on the precipice of collapse.

The unity government that emerged from the peace agreement is cracking. Rival groups within Vice President Machar’s political party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, for example, have been battling over appointing a new leader, the New York Times wrote.

Meanwhile, food insecurity is reaching catastrophic levels and four million of about 11 million South Sudanese are still displaced from the civil war. Floods have washed away the shelters that hundreds of thousands had erected in the country and also in neighboring ones to start new lives, wrote Agence France-Presse.

Meanwhile, corruption in government is rampant. The United Nations recently said that officials had absconded with more than $73 million over the past three years. In a two-month period, they allegedly stole $39 million, Al Jazeera reported. South Sudanese leaders say the allegations are unfair.

The peace deal was supposed to create mechanisms to prosecute fighters who committed atrocities and promote national healing after the death of 400,000 in the civil war. But, as the Washington Post discussed, none of the agreement’s “transitional justice mechanisms” are functioning.

Journalists trying to report on these issues face roadblocks. South Sudanese lawmakers, for example, have proposed curbing the rights of the press if they insist on reporting on legislative spending without the permission of the chamber’s leaders, according to Voice of America.

The citizens of South Sudan, especially those who fought in the country’s war for independence and civil war are understandably disappointed. “The freedom fighters and families of martyrs who saw South Sudan’s statehood as the ultimate prize of their selfless sacrifices, are likely to feel betrayed,” ​​wrote economist Luka Biong Deng Kuol in an Africa Center for Strategic Studies analysis.

But then, the South Sudanese are likely used to that feeling.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Time to Blink

POLAND

Tens of thousands of Poles marched across Poland this week to denounce a controversial ruling by the constitutional court that could potentially lead to the country leaving the European Union in the future, the Evening Standard reported Monday.

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law – intended to supersede the laws of member states – are incompatible with the Polish constitution.

The verdict was harshly criticized by pro-EU politicians across the bloc and Poland, with many saying that it would undercut the legal pillars on which the 27-nation union stands. For example, Donald Tusk, former head of the European Council and the current leader of Poland’s main opposition, said the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) are endangering the country’s future in the EU.

Still, right-wing politicians in Hungary and Poland welcomed the decision: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said each EU state must be treated with respect and that the bloc should not be only “a grouping of those who are equal and more equal.”

Even so, PiS denied that the existence of plans for a Polish exit from the bloc – dubbed “Polexit.”

However, opponents worry that the ruling might set up another confrontation between Poland and the EU, and eventually lead to a Polish withdrawal, the Independent noted.

Poland and the EU have been at odds in recent years over issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to judicial independence.

Chipping At Impunity

BURKINA FASO

The trial of 14 men implicated in the killing of an influential leftist leader known as “Africa’s Che Guevara” began in Burkina Faso on Monday, a proceeding seen as a significant step toward lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding the death after nearly 35 years, the Associated Press reported.

The defendants are accused of complicity in the assassination of Thomas Sankara following the 1987 coup that ousted him. The accused also include former President Blaise Compaore, who will be tried in absentia from Ivory Coast – where he has lived in exile since he was toppled in 2014.

Sankara, a former Marxist leader, has left a long-lasting impression in the country and across the continent. He helped change the country’s name to Burkina Faso – which means “land of honest men” in the local Moore and Dioula languages – from the French colonial name of Upper Volta.

He came to power following a leftist coup in 1983, and his rule was marked by numerous nationalizations. He is also remembered for outlawing female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages. Meanwhile, Sankara remains highly regarded among left-wing Africans for his defiance of Western powers.

However, Sankara’s former friend, Compaore, later deposed him in a 1987 coup. Compaore later ruled the country for 27 years before being ousted himself in an uprising.

The trial comes as the country grapples with violence from jihadists groups, which have killed thousands and displaced more than 1.4 million people.

Civil rights groups called the trial “an important victory for all those who fight against impunity in Burkina Faso.”

One-way Street

LEBANON

Lebanon suffered a total blackout this week after its grid collapsed amid an ongoing fuel shortage and a deep financial crisis that has sent the country’s economy into freefall, CNBC reported Monday.

The population of six million was left without electricity for 24 hours after the country’s two main power stations shut down over the weekend due to fuel shortages. Officials initially warned that the outage would last for a few days but electricity returned Sunday after the central bank granted the energy ministry $100 million in credit to buy fuel.

Electricity outages – caused by the country’s mismanaged energy sector – are not uncommon. Many residents and businesses have been able to overcome blackouts thanks to generators. However, Lebanon has been facing fuel shortages since the summer, forcing many businesses to limit their operations or close down because they cannot afford gas.

Currently, Lebanon is importing more than 80 percent of its food, goods and fuel. However, fuel smuggling operations into Syria by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, as well as hoarding by businesses and others have caused supplies to dry up and prices to skyrocket.

Meanwhile, the blackout is escalating the crisis in the Middle Eastern country, which is currently grappling with food shortages, a spiraling currency and the aftermath of a large port explosion in the capital of Beirut last year that killed more than 200 people and destroyed hundreds of businesses.

Lebanon has been battling a financial crisis for two years when the country defaulted on its debt – including $31 billion in Eurobonds that remain outstanding. More than 70 percent of Lebanese have fallen into poverty in this period, according to the World Bank.

Since October 2019, mass protests have erupted across Lebanon over years of corruption and mismanagement that have led to the country’s current predicament.

DISCOVERIES

Superstition Slayers

A lot of legends and superstitions surround Yemen’s “Well of Hell,” a deep sinkhole believed to house evil spirits.

Recently, a group of Omani cavers decided to explore the sinkhole to learn more about what lies beneath the mysterious geological formation, Newsweek reported.

Located in the eastern province of Al-Mahra, the well is 100-feet wide and 367-feet deep. Locals believe the giant sinkhole is a prison for demonic spirits, while others say it’s an abode for mythical jinns – shapeshifting spirits made of fire and air that originate from pre-Islamic Arabia.

But researchers from the Oman Cave Exploration Team (OCET) didn’t find anything supernatural. Instead, they came across a bunch of snakes, dead animals and cave pearls.

“Cave pearls are concentric calcium carbonate deposits that form around nuclei under falling water,” Mohammad Al Kindi, one of the researchers, told the National, a news outlet based in the United Arab Emirates. “These rings are smoothed by the movement of water falling for thousands of years until they form beautiful pearl shapes.”

The team believes they are the first to fully descend into the cave – they did not report any footprints or other signs of disturbances. They also collected samples from the site and plan to study them in the future.

In the meantime, Kindi said he wants to explore other sites such as the sinkhole in Yemen’s Hadramout region, to dispel other superstitions.

“I have no doubt that the one in Hadramout will also be normal…,” he said.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 238,292,166

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,857,853

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,498,330,152

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

  1. US: 44,456,144 (+0.26%)
  2. India: 33,985,920 (+0.04%)
  3. Brazil: 21,582,738 (+0.03%)
  4. UK: 8,232,327 (+0.49%)
  5. Russia: 7,687,559 (+0.37%)
  6. Turkey: 7,475,085 (+0.41%)
  7. France: 7,157,206 (+0.02%)
  8. Iran: 5,716,394 (+0.24%)
  9. Argentina: 5,266,275 (+0.01%)
  10. Spain: 4,977,448 (+0.08%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours