The World Today for August 17, 2022
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The War Dividend
A few months ago, elite government soldiers in Ndop in the Northwest region of Cameroon detained more than 30 young men on motorcycles who were part of a funeral procession, but whom the soldiers said they believed were separatist fighters.
“The soldiers selected those among us who had dreadlocks,” one rider who was later released told Human Rights Watch (HRW). “For them, this is an indication that you are an amba boy (separatist fighter). They forced us to undress and beat us savagely with an iron hammer and with their belts.”
The soldiers beat them for four hours, he added. Meanwhile, more than half of those young men are still missing. Unfortunately, such stories are the norm in parts of Cameroon these days.
Six years ago, teachers and lawyers began protesting in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions of the Southwest and Northwest, fed up with being marginalized in the Francophone-majority country. But faced with brutal government crackdowns accusing them of “terrorism,” the conflict morphed into a fight for independence.
The violence has led to 6,000 deaths, 765,000 people internally displaced, tens of thousands fleeing the country, the shuttering of schools and businesses and two million people needing aid, the United Nations reported.
It has become, as the Norwegian Refugee Council labeled it, the world’s third-most neglected refugee crisis.
Both sides have committed serious human rights violations and atrocities, Amnesty International says. That includes rape, murder, torture, extrajudicial killings and kidnappings. Activists, the UN, Western and regional countries and the Catholic Church have been trying to mediate between the government and the separatists for years to end the violence. But dozens of peace initiatives have failed.
One roadblock to peace, says HRW, is the lack of consequences for abusers on both sides. “Impunity remains a key driver of the crisis, emboldening abusers, and fueling further harm and violence,” it wrote.
However, a bigger driver of the conflict is profit – this war is good business, wrote the New Humanitarian. And those getting rich – including top government officials – want the war to go on.
This war economy, wrote researcher Morgan Tebei Nwati in the publication Advances in Applied Sociology, involves kidnapping, extortion, arms trafficking and smuggling. Civilians get caught in the middle, often forced to pay either separatist militias or the government to get their kidnapped loved ones released from flimsy or non-existent charges. Gangs with no stake in the fight get involved because it’s lucrative, said Amnesty International. Meanwhile, the separatists “tax” cocoa and other goods for export, produced in regions they control, to make a buck. Cameroon is the world’s fifth largest producer of cocoa.
“This is no longer a struggle for the common man but instead an economic venture,” Alhaji Mohammed Aboubakar, an imam in Buea, Southwest region, told the New Humanitarian.
Meanwhile, the separatists are divided: Some of their leaders are in jail, others are abroad and many are increasingly bent on terrorizing a local population that doesn’t want them in their villages anymore because of indiscriminate killings, looting and rape. Sometimes, they kill each other, the Anglophone Crisis Monitoring Project noted, after the recent death of a leading separatist commander.
In the mostly peaceful Francophone regions, the elite is busy wondering who will follow leader-for-life Paul Biya, 89, Cameroon’s president since 1982. The top contenders for succession have no interest in concessions or peace to the Anglophone regions, because the economy Biya built – and plundered – is too lucrative, reported South Africa’s Daily Maverick.
The newspaper also detailed how the British – along with support from the French, US and Israelis – have helped Biya keep control of the country, in the guise of helping Cameroon fight Boko Haram in the Far North region, a jihadist insurgency that has seen 3,000 killed and displaced 250,000, the Crisis Group said.
Incidentally, the UK’s main focus in Cameroon is training the government’s special forces, the 10,000-strong Rapid Intervention Battalion, elite soldiers that are accused of torture, executing women and children and burning down a village.
These are also the very same soldiers that swept into Ndop in April and detained theyoung men on motorcycles in the funeral procession.
That is not good news for the family of one of the detainees who remains missing. The uncle of a missing 22-year-old man has visited more than a half-dozen military bases and police stations to find him, but to no avail.
“I am very worried,” he told HRW. “I hope we find him alive.”
He won’t be the last frantic family member of an Anglophone Cameroonian who has disappeared.
That’s because the war dividend is just too lucrative.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Jack Of All Trades
Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to five ministries while serving as the country’s chief, revelations that have sparked outrage in Australia and calls for legal inquiries over the former leader’s conduct, the Guardian reported Tuesday.
Current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his predecessor had taken over five federal departments between March 2020 and May 2021, including health, finance and industry. His announcement came following an investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Albanese said the self-appointments were done without any official announcement or record of Morrison being sworn in. He added that the move gave Morrison decision-making powers for those crucial areas and few in his cabinet knew they were sharing responsibilities with the prime minister.
The disclosures have sent the Australian government and public into a tailspin, with no one able to explain why the appointments were essential or why Australians were kept in the dark.
Albanese called his predecessor’s actions an “unprecedented trashing of our democracy” and said he was waiting for legal advice on potential ramifications, the BBC noted.
Morrison, however, apologized to his colleagues “for any offense”, but defended his actions “as a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ safeguard” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, he is currently facing calls to resign from parliament, where he is currently serving as a backbencher in the Liberal Party.
France’s armed forces completed their withdrawal from Mali this week, nine years after the French government sent troops to the West African nation to oust Islamic extremists from power, the Associated Press reported.
The last army unit, part of the so-called Barkhane force, left the country Monday, just six months after French President Emmanuel Macron said he would withdraw troops from Mali amid ongoing disputes with the ruling military junta.
French forces have been active in the West African country since 2013 when they intervened to tackle jihadist insurgents. At the time of Macron’s announcement, there were about 2,400 troops in Mali, part of the 4,300-strong Barkhane forces that are also deployed to other parts of the broader north African Sahel region, including in Chad and Niger.
But the recent pullout came amid tensions following two military coups in Mali in the last two years. Relations further soured over the past year between Mali, its African neighbors and the European Union after the junta allowed Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group to deploy on its territory.
The group has been accused of instigating violence and committing human rights abuses in Africa.
Meanwhile, European leaders said they are also planning to withdraw the EU-led ‘Takuba’ task force from Mali, following France’s pullout.
Still, Macron and other European leaders have repeatedly emphasized that their countries’ military operations in Mali would not mean the residents in the Sahel will be abandoned in their struggle against Islamic militants.
The French leader previously noted that the “heart” of the Barkhane force will be transferred to Niger, to serve in the region bordering Burkina Faso.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Authorities and civil society groups in Papua New Guinea are raising the alarm about the brutal practice of witch-hunting in the country, following a high-profile case that saw the deaths of four women and the torture of five others accused of witchcraft, Al Jazeera reported Tuesday.
Earlier this month, nine women faced accusations of witchcraft for allegedly causing the death of trucking magnate Jacob Luke in Enga Province last month.
Luke, who had been bushwalking in the province is believed to have died from a potential heart attack or stroke, but members of his tribe singled out the women and accused them of “kaikai lewa”, or “secretly removing the victim’s heart and eating it to gain their virility,” the news organization wrote.
One woman who confessed out of fear was burned alive. Five others were then gruesomely tortured in public, leaving them with major wounds and scars.
News of the event spread in the province, prompting six police officers and one layman to rescue five women that survived the gruesome ordeal.
The brutal torture and murders have been described as sorcery-accusation-related violence (SARV) in Papua New Guinea.
Dickson Tanda, the Catholic Church’s SARV coordinator in Enga, said that witch hunting had become more frequent and more barbaric in Enga, a poor, underdeveloped province in the highlands of the country. He added that since 2015, he has helped rescue more than 600 women and children accused of sorcery.
A number of studies from the Australian National University (ANU) warned that authorities must address witch-hunting, adding that the practice was “entering new geographical areas.”
Enga Province police chief George Kakas also noted that part of the problem stems from the impunity allowed to those who carry out SARV attacks. He lamented that only a few witnesses come forward to assist law enforcement. He added that police are poorly resourced and educated and sometimes participate in extracting confessions from alleged witches.
A 2017 ANU study found that only 91 out of 15,000 perpetrators of SARV had served time in prison. A follow-up study also found that misogyny was a factor both in the crimes and the response to them.
Although there have been various government initiatives to stamp out the violence, none of them have been successful.
Meanwhile, activists blame some church leaders for instigating the violence or remaining neutral about it. They noted that the Catholic Church is one of the few that is actively fighting SARV.
Activist Anton Lutz told Al Jazeera that the church has gone far as to excommunicate “individuals and entire congregations that have aided and abetted torture,” while also running safe houses for survivors.
- Estonia will remove all memorials in the eastern city of Narva that date to the Soviet Union, Politico reported. The government’s decision to remove a controversial tank from Narva, a Russian-speaking city located on the Russian border, sparked tensions with local authorities in recent days. Authorities blocked access to the area surrounding the monuments and deployed a large number of police officers across the city.
- TV Rain, hitherto Russia’s last independent TV channel until forced off the air under the country’s new “fake news” law, has relaunched from Latvia, CNN reported.
- Five Europeans who were arrested in eastern Ukraine are currently being tried at a courthouse run by Russian-backed rebels in the city of Donetsk, the Guardian wrote. The five defendants all entered not guilty pleas to allegations of serving as mercenaries and “undergoing training to seize power by force.”
Earth experienced its shortest ever-recorded days in June and July of this year, sparking debates among scientists about whether the planet is literally spinning faster, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Generally, Earth completes a full turn on its axis every 24 hours. But on June 29, the planet had its shortest day on record, as researchers observed midnight arrived 1.59 milliseconds earlier than usual. That record came close to being broken a month later when July 26 arrived 1.5 milliseconds earlier, the Guardian noted. Scientists in the 1960s began using a high-precision atomic clock to measure Earth’s rotation.
The phenomenon appears to be caused by the Earth spinning faster than usual but scientists have yet to reach a consensus on why this is happening now.
Some blame climate change, such as the melting and freezing of glaciers or say it is due to the winds, whose shifting weight pulls on the Earth. Geologists, meanwhile, say movements within Earth’s molten core are shifting the mass of the planet.
Others attribute the increased speed to the “Chandler Wobble,” a natural movement of the Earth’s axis caused by the globe not being completely spherical.
Regardless of the cause, the phenomenon has sparked discussions about whether this marks the beginning of shorter days and if countries should begin implementing the first “negative leap second.” This coordinated effort means that civil time would skip a second to keep up with the faster-spinning planet.