The World Today for May 31, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The Old Malignancy

WEST AFRICA

Sixty alleged terrorists on motorcycles attacked a military checkpoint in Kpinkankandi on the Togo side of the border with Burkina Faso recently, killing eight soldiers and wounding 13. The troops were there to stop al Qaeda, Islamic State and other terrorists entering their country from Mali, Niger and elsewhere.

As Al Jazeera explained, the incident was the latest in a concerning rising prevalence of terror attacks in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the last three years, more than 5,300 terrorist events have claimed the lives of 16,000 people in West Africa, according to Ghanaian Defense Ministry numbers. United Nations officials in Niger, for example, are pleading with the international community for more resources to fight the terrorists there.

Some analysts weren’t surprised to see terrorists identify Togo as a possible destination for exporting their brands of hate. In the Conversation, Folahanmi Aina, a doctoral candidate in Leadership Studies at King’s College London, said that “violent extremism could thrive” in impoverished, politically unstable Togo.”

Looking at an individual country might not do justice to the issue, analysts say. Calling Sub-Saharan Africa a new “locus of terrorism,” Foreign Policy magazine noted how militant organizations give a sense of belonging and greater meaning to alienated, disenfranchised youth who have little hope of economic gain under the current global economic system. That’s one reason why Nigeria has been fighting the Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram and other militant groups for years.

Unfortunately, terrorism helps keep people in poverty and alienation, according to an African Union report that ReliefWeb shared. In addition to shattering lives and halting economic activity, it undermines investor confidence and the civil society that is necessary to move forward.

The problem is not isolated to Western Africa, either. In the east, Al Shabab is wreaking havoc in Somalia, Kenya and elsewhere. As the New York-based think tank, the Soufan Center, wrote, the US is sending troops to the region with the express mission of eliminating Al Shabab’s leadership. The Wagner Group, Russian private military contractors, are also now operating throughout Sub-Saharan Africa in defense of governments seeking to hold the terrorists at bay.

The chaos in Somalia the terrorists create helps pirates prey on shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa. Similar piracy is now occurring in West Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, reported the Washington Post, adding that the war in Ukraine has diverted worldwide attention from these terror networks.

Disorder spreads unless checked.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Outsiders

COLOMBIA

Two anti-establishment candidates are heading for a runoff following this weekend’s presidential election, one that dealt a major blow to Colombia’s political class, Axios reported.

Leftist Senator Gustavo Petro secured more than 40 percent of the vote, while his right-wing populist rival Rodolfo Hernandez came in second with slightly more than 28 percent. A candidate needed more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff, which will take place on June 19.

Analysts said the elections have become among the most consequential in Colombia’s history, and could set the country on an uncharted path, according to the New York Times.

Petro, a former mayor of Bogota and rebel fighter, vowed to fight inequality and overhaul Colombia’s economy by implementing tax reforms and other measures. These include offering free university education and opposing the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. He has consistently led the polls ahead of Sunday’s election and a Petro victory could set up a clash with the United States – Colombia’s closest ally.

Meanwhile, Hernandez’s gains surprised many observers, who noted that the candidate was relatively unknown until a few weeks ago. He has branded himself as an anti-corruption candidate and has proposed a program to reward citizens who report corruption.

Still, some criticized him as undemocratic after he suggested declaring a 90-day state of emergency and suspending all judicial and administrative functions to tackle corruption.

His second-place victory shows that many Colombians are ready to elect anyone who is not represented by the country’s mainstream conservative leaders.

No, Thanks

CHINA

Ten Pacific island nations dismissed Chinese proposals for a wide-ranging regional security pact Monday, amid concerns over Beijing’s increasing influence in the region and worry about getting caught in a geopolitical tussle between the West and China, Channel News Asia reported.

Pacific leaders and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi failed to reach an agreement during talks in Fiji, citing misgivings about China’s offer: Wang proposed a pact that would see China train police officials in the Pacific, increase its involvement in cybersecurity, foster stronger political ties, and obtain access to natural resources. China would also provide millions of dollars in financial assistance and a potential free-trade agreement as enticement.

But some of the leaders said the offer was “disingenuous” and would “ensure Chinese influence in government” and “economic control” of key industries. More soft-spoken leaders said there was a lack of regional consensus.

Wang’s visit was a high-profile diplomatic defeat for Beijing, which has been increasing its activity in the South Pacific, directly threatening the US and its allies’ dominance in the strategically important region.

Western leaders, meanwhile, have cautioned Pacific nations to be wary of “shadowy, vague deals with little transparency.”

Even so, many of the Pacific countries noted that they would rather keep amicable ties with both China and the West while focusing on the more urgent threat of climate change and day-to-day economic issues.

Baby Steps

SUDAN

Sudan’s army chief Abdel-Fattah Burhan this week lifted a state of emergency that was imposed after last year’s military coup, a move aimed at quelling the months-long mass protests that have gripped the country, the Middle East Eye reported.

Burhan’s decision follows recommendations by senior military officials to end the state of emergency and release all individuals detained under the emergency law. It also comes shortly after two protesters were killed during a pro-democracy demonstration in the capital, Khartoum, over the weekend.

The United Nations envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, criticized the killings and urged military leaders to lift the state of emergency.

Sudan has been plagued by unrest after the military launched a coup in October, putting an end to the African country’s efforts to transition to democracy following the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019 amid a popular uprising, the Associated Press noted.

Sudan had been ruled by a fragile sovereign council made up of civilian and military leaders but that ended after the October takeover. Since then, thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand a return to civilian government. The military has responded by launching a bloody crackdown that has killed nearly 100 people and wounded more than 4,300.

Despite calls for the return of civilian rule, Burhan and his officials said they will only hand over power to an elected administration. Elections are scheduled to take place in July 2023.

Meanwhile, the UN, the African Union, and an eight-nation East African regional organization have been leading coordinated efforts to bridge the divide.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russian troops entered the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, according to the regional governor, who described the fighting as “very fierce.” Taking the city has become a crucial goal for Moscow’s advance in the Donbas, according to Reuters. At the same time, the United States said it would not send rockets to Ukraine that could reach the Russian territory, CNN added. Officials noted that the Biden administration is concerned that Ukraine could use the weapons to carry out offensive attacks inside Russia.
  • Germany’s ruling coalition and the main opposition party have agreed to proceed with a considerable increase in defense spending as outlined by Chancellor Olaf Scholz three months ago, the Associated Press wrote. Scholz praised the agreement on Monday, calling it “the right answer to the turning point that started with Russia’s attack on Ukraine.” Meanwhile, Danes will vote Wednesday on whether to remove their country’s opt-out from the EU’s defense and security policy, the next potentially seismic policy shift in northern Europe in the aftermath of Russia’s full-fledged war against Ukraine, the Financial Times reported.
  • The European Union agreed on a proposal to ban more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports, saying the agreement will cut off a major source of funding for Russia’s military machine, the BBC wrote. The ban, however, will only affect oil that arrives by sea but not pipeline oil, following opposition from Hungary. Meanwhile, Serbia’s president announced this week that he has secured an “extremely favorable” natural gas deal with Russia, the Associated Press said separately. Serbia has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine or impose sanctions on its Russian ally.

DISCOVERIES

Smart Games

Video games have long come under fire for their effects on children but a new study found that the medium can boost intelligence in young minds, Science Alert reported.

Scientists analyzed screen time data of 9,855 9- and 10-year olds based in the United States. The data was gathered from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, considered the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the US.

At first, the research team observed that, on average, children spent 2.5 hours a day watching TV or online videos, one hour playing video games and 30 minutes socializing over the internet.

Then two years later, they accessed data of more than 5,000 of those youngsters and noticed a peculiar trend: Those who spent more time gaming saw an increase of 2.5 IQ points above the average rise.

The researchers noted that the IQ spike was based on various tasks including reading comprehension, flexible thinking and self-control. However, watching TV or browsing social media didn’t have a positive or negative effect on their cognitive abilities.

“Our results support the claim that screen time generally doesn’t impair children’s cognitive abilities, and that playing video games can actually help boost intelligence,” said co-author Torkel Klingberg.

Klingberg’s team suggested that the findings challenge the previous narrative that video games are detrimental to children. They added that the new research also factors in different variables, such as genetics and a child’s socio-economic background.

Even so, they agreed that many factors are at play in how intelligence develops and forms in children so more research is needed.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 529,371,188

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,289,031

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,392,755,304

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

  1. US: 84,012,408 (+0.03%)
  2. India: 43,158,087 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,977,661 (+0.08%)
  4. France: 29,676,522 (+0.02%)
  5. Germany: 26,305,996 (+0.24%)
  6. UK: 22,481,196 (+0.08%)
  7. Russia: 18,103,638 (+0.09%)
  8. South Korea: 18,060,405 (+0.02%)
  9. Italy: 17,396,723 (+0.05%)
  10. Turkey: 15,071,772 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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