The World Today for April 12, 2022

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AFRICA

Around 45 percent of the European Union’s gas comes from Russia. In the next few months, EU officials expect to unveil a plan to phase out those and other fossil fuel imports over the next four years in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Such a momentous economic shift begs an obvious question, of course: Who will replace that lost energy? The answer that is increasingly on the tip of many experts’ tongues is not so obvious: Africa, a continent that possesses some of the world’s largest natural gas reserves.

“It seems that Africa now is the most reliable alternative for these countries in Europe,” University of Cape Town oil and gas researcher Kennedy Chege said in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine. “It essentially opens up a great opportunity for African countries to move in and get deals done quickly.”

Many observers have concerns, of course. At a moment when European politicians want to reduce their carbon footprint, they are contemplating massive investments to revamp crumbling facilities that will produce greenhouse gases.

Furthermore, Africa lacks the necessary infrastructure, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, to move natural gas to Europe, Al Jazeera noted. Armed conflicts are raging throughout the continent, undermining the stability necessary for investors and engineers who want to build pipelines and other facilities.

But Vincent Obisie-Orlu, a researcher at Good Governance Africa, a nonprofit, told the Washington Post that an energy alliance between the north and south sides of the Mediterranean could funnel much-needed cash to eventually reduce carbon consumption and develop new renewable energy resources.

European financing could help Africa produce solar farms, hydroelectric dams that make less of an impact on the environment and state-of-the-art pipelines as well as take energy-saving conservation measures, argued the Institute for Security Studies, a South African think tank. When European demand for energy was low, it could be used to power desalination plants to address the region’s water troubles, too.

Officials who oversee the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation are already discussing how they might open the sector to private investment to boost production to meet European demand. “We would like to be reliable partners to solve the energy problem in Europe and we can only achieve this by working together,” Nigerian minister of state for petroleum resources Timipre Sylva told Euractiv.

Perhaps peaceful trade and exchange can still bring nations together in the globalized world despite the doubts that Putin has raised.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Runoff Redux

FRANCE

Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron secured the top spot in France’s presidential elections Sunday, but he failed to gain enough votes to avoid a runoff election against his main opponent, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Results showed that Macron secured nearly 28 percent of the vote, while Le Pen came in second place with slightly more than 23 percent. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came in third with 22 percent, which appeared not to be enough to make the runoff.

The second round of polls will take place on April 24. Election observers predicted a tight race that could prove challenging for centrist Macron.

In the 2017 runoff elections, Macron defeated Le Pen by more than 30 percentage points, but analysts posited that he would now win by only 4-6 percentage points against the far-right candidate.

They added that the results stem from a series of factors, including dissatisfaction with Macron’s presidency, rising costs and Le Pen’s efforts to moderate her image.

Le Pen’s campaign focused on concerns about the economy and rising inflation. She strove to downplay her ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. She also took a softer approach to immigration to make exceptions for Ukrainian refugees.

Meanwhile, Macron only held a single large campaign rally, did not engage in debates with competitors and did not deliver any of the big-vision speeches for which he is known.

Although his tough stance against Moscow’s invasion gave him a boost, the incumbent has gained a reputation as an elitist politician out of touch with issues affecting everyday people, some analysts noted.

Others suggested that Mélenchon’s third place in the polls also shows that many left-leaning voters are disappointed with Macron’s efforts to fight climate change and his shift to the right on issues such as national security.

A second-round victory would make Le Pen the first far-right president in French history and could upend European politics by replacing the most ardent supporter of European Union collaboration with a leader renowned for her anti-EU sentiments.

It could also give far-right parties in the bloc an official platform at a time when nationalists in other EU countries have been struggling.

Keeping Checks

INDONESIA

Thousands of Indonesian students took to the streets of the country Monday to protest the rising cost of goods and a proposed plan to extend President Joko Widodo’s stay in office, Reuters reported.

Demonstrators marched in front of the country’s parliament in the capital Jakarta as well as in other cities. Police deployed tear gas and water cannons against the demonstrators. One protester and six officers were injured, the authorities said.

Some protesters lamented the surging prices of essential goods, including cooking oil, while others raised alarms about the prospects of the president outstaying his two-term limit.

Prominent political figures had proposed extending the rule of the president – also known as Jokowi – by changing the constitution or delaying the scheduled 2024 elections. The president initially remained mum about the subject, but opponents have criticized his ambiguous stance on the matter.

On Sunday, Jokowi urged his cabinet and security chiefs to cease talks on the contentious issue and said that the 2024 presidential elections will take place as planned.

Since his first election in 2014, Jokowi has retained a high approval rate, but a recent poll found that more than 70 percent of Indonesians rejected plans to extend his rule.

Meanwhile, the recent protests underscore the important role students have played in protecting Indonesia’s democratic gains: In 1998, large student demonstrations helped oust the government of Suharto — the military dictator who held the presidency for some 30 years.

Symbolic Victory

MEXICO

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador overwhelmingly won Sunday’s recall referendum, a plebiscite that he himself had proposed to ask voters whether he should step down or continue his six-year term, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The country’s electoral agency said that more than 90 percent of voters chose to allow the president to complete his term, which will end in 2024. But officials noted that the referendum was marked by a very low turnout of less than 18 percent of eligible voters.

More than 40 percent of people have to vote in order for the referendum to be legally binding.

López Obrador pushed for the recall vote, even though the populist leader, who was elected by a landslide in 2018, enjoys approval ratings above 60 percent.

His opponents criticized the referendum as a sham and urged voters not to participate in it. The plebiscite marked the first recall vote in Mexico’s history following a legal change in 2019.

Analysts explained that the vote was an attempt by the president to mobilize his supporters as he enters his fourth year in office ahead of gubernatorial elections in June. They noted that López Obrador will use the victory as a way to promote his agenda for the remainder of his term.

The leader is planning a series of changes, including a bill to amend the constitution to give the state electric utility, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), control over the country’s power sector. He is also proposing a major overhaul of the electoral agency.

Since his election, López Obrador has cut the salaries of top government officials and increased social spending, including hiking pensions for the elderly and pushing through annual increases in the minimum wage.

But his presidency has been also been plagued by a lagging economy and rising violent crime, and he has worked to weaken the country’s freedom of information institute, along with other autonomous watchdogs and regulators.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that “tens of thousands” of people may have been killed in the besieged city of Mariupol, adding that Russian forces “are not halting their onslaught,” Sky News wrote. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, United Nations officials estimate that nearly 1,800 civilians have been killed and more than 2,400 have been wounded, according to Al Jazeera. The death toll also includes more than 180 children, according to Ukraine’s ombudsman.
  • Russia appointed General Alexander Dvornikov as the new commander to oversee Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine, a move that some military analysts warn could start a brutal new phase as Russia readies a major offensive in the east, NBC News reported. Dvornikov most recently oversaw Russian troops in Syria and has a history of targeting civilians. Meanwhile, Zelenskyy appealed to South Korea on Monday to send weapons and military gear, including anti-aircraft artillery, to the war-torn country, the South China Morning Post added.
  • Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in the first Western-sit down with the Russian leader since the invasion, CNN noted. Nehammer said that the meeting was “not a friendly visit,” as the Austrian leader expressed concerns over alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine. Meanwhile, pro-Russian demonstrators marched in a number of German cities to protest the prejudice they claim to have faced since the invasion, according to Euronews.
  • Russia has cautioned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO, claiming that such a step would not bring European stability, the BBC reported. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “the alliance remains a mechanism aimed for conflict.”

DISCOVERIES

Of Old and New Peaks

Peru’s most famous archaeological site, Machu Picchu, has been wrongly named for more than 100 years, CNN reported.

The majestic Machu Picchu – which means “old mountain peak” in the Indigenous Quechua language – was part of the Incan empire that spanned from what is now south-central Bolivia to a large portion of Chile.

The settlement was built around 1420 and is believed to have been an estate for royals living in the Incan capital of Cuzco.

Following the Spanish conquest, the settlement was abandoned for hundreds of years until American explorer Hiram Bingham came across it in 1911.

Bingham decided to give the ancient city its current name based on information provided by his guide, but he added in his notes that he was uncertain of the name when he first visited it.

In a new report, researchers Donato Amado Gonzales and Brian Bauer reviewed Bingham’s notes and a number of historical documents, including maps and atlases printed before the explorer’s visit.

Their findings showed that the city was actually named Huayna Picchu, which means “new mountain peak” or “young mountain peak.” One 1588 report also mentioned that the Indigenous population of the Vilcabamba region was considering returning to Huayna Picchu.

Gonzales and Bauer noted that previous non-Peruvian archaeologists did not properly research the name and didn’t grasp the local Quechua. The report also challenges the narrative that Bingham discovered the site.

Despite the findings, it’s unlikely that the site’s name will be changed, the team noted.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 499,748,065

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,181,560

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,110,770,965

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

  1. US: 80,449,398 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 43,036,132 (+0.004%)
  3. Brazil: 30,161,909 (+0.05%)
  4. France: 27,166,205 (+0.51%)
  5. Germany: 22,878,428 (+1.10%)
  6. UK: 21,711,146 (+0.42%)
  7. Russia: 17,745,453 (+0.14%)
  8. South Korea: 15,635,274 (+1.97%)
  9. Italy: 15,320,753 (+0.54%)
  10. Turkey: 14,965,867 (+0.08%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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