The World Today for December 02, 2022

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New Money, Old Problems

NIGERIA

Nigeria recently launched newly designed currency notes in denominations of 200, 500, and 1,000 naira that are worth, respectively, 45 cents, $1.13, and $2.25. Leaders in the West African nation, the most populous and with the largest economy on the continent, said the move would reduce inflation and help authorities crack down on corruption and money laundering.

Private individuals and entities, rather than banks, now hold more than 80 percent of Nigeria’s cash, the Associated Press reported. Changing the currency forces those holders to remit their old bills, especially high denominations, for new ones or else the money will lose its value. Compelling an inflow of cash into the banking system could also help with inflation by bringing hoarded currencies back into the banks if not open circulation, officials say.

Still, critics questioned whether different notes would change the culture of government corruption or bring down food prices that have been soaring due to increased energy costs worldwide. They claimed the new notes were only different in color. “It doesn’t change anything,” Nigerian economist Bismarck Rewane told CNN. “It doesn’t increase the value. There was no redesign. The color of the currency changed, that’s all. The change is not significant enough to stop counterfeiting.”

Meanwhile, a Nigerian Senate report also recently concluded that the country lost more than $2 billion to oil theft this year through August, a testament to the corruption that riddles the state-owned oil company NNPC, Sahara Reporters wrote.

As officials and pundits in the capital of Abuja and the metropolis of Lagos debate money and corruption, militants in the country’s northern regions are kidnapping and murdering. Gunmen took more than 100 people, including women and children, in a recent raid, for example, reported Reuters. It’s just the latest one. At the same time, Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram is also still active in northern Nigeria, nearly a decade since the kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in Chibok. Recently, the militants killed and wounded at least 10 Chadian soldiers at a post near the Nigerian border, Africanews added.

The confluence of these events hasn’t been good for democracy. Many Nigerians feel as if their country’s elites are making cosmetic changes and giving lip service to improving the economy while also ignoring the real threats and making off with some cash on the side, political scientist Kenneth Arung explained in an interview in Business Day, a Nigerian newspaper.

The former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, agreed with Arung. In Punch, a Nigerian news magazine, he said democracy could collapse at any time in Nigeria. The Financial Times echoed that warning.

Nigerians need to stand together against their challenges. Less democracy won’t help them do that.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Lethal Mail

SPAIN

Spanish authorities stepped up security at government buildings Thursday after finding six letter bombs directed at high-profile targets, including Spain’s prime minister and the Ukrainian ambassador in Madrid, Reuters reported.

Officials said initial investigations showed that the homemade devices were sent from within the country. The devices were delivered in brown packages containing a flammable powder and tripwire that create “sudden flames” rather than an explosion, they added.

News of the letter bombs emerged Wednesday after police said a security official at Ukraine’s embassy in Spain was slightly injured after opening a package. The device was addressed to Ukrainian Ambassador Serhii Pohoreltsev.

Later in the day, authorities discovered another package at the headquarters of Spanish weapons manufacturer Instalaza in Zaragoza, in northeastern Spain. The arms company manufactures rocket launchers that Spain has supplied to Ukraine to fend off Russia’s invasion.

On Thursday, Spain’s Interior Ministry announced that an “envelope with pyrotechnic material” addressed to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was discovered at the leader’s residence last week.

As authorities investigate the packages, government representatives said they don’t intend to raise Spain’s terrorist threat level – currently set at the second-highest level because of attacks by Muslim extremists around Europe in the past decade.

Following the embassy explosion, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered all of Kyiv’s diplomatic missions to strengthen their security.

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Spain released a statement condemning “any threat or terrorist act” in relation to the letter bombs, “particularly directed at a diplomatic mission.”

The Sinkhole

SOUTH AFRICA

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing calls for his impeachment this week after an independent panel said he violated anti-corruption law during the investigation of a robbery at his farm, CNBC reported Thursday.

The issue centers on the “Farmgate” scandal in which Ramaphosa – who entered office on an anti-corruption platform – is accused of hiding a $4 million theft from his Phala farm in the northeast of the country in 2020.

He also allegedly cooperated with authorities in neighboring Namibia to capture, torture and bribe the suspects.

The Namibian government has denied any involvement.

Ramaphosa admitted that the robbery took place but said the amount stolen was smaller. He denied the allegations and countered that the money was the proceeds from the sale of buffalo.

But a parliamentary-appointed panel began probing the case after Arthur Fraser, former head of the country’s State Security Agency, filed a complaint with police in June disputing the leader’s version of events.

The panel released a report Wednesday recommending that the president should face impeachment: Among its findings, it alleges that “there was a deliberate intention not to investigate the commission of the crimes committed at Phala openly.”

The report added that the president may have violated the constitution by “acting in a way that is inconsistent with his office.”

Ramaphosa, again, denied the recent claims.

Even so, South Africa’s parliament will now review the panel’s findings and decide whether to initiate impeachment proceedings against Ramaphosa.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party will also meet from Dec. 16 to Dec. 20 to decide whether to replace Ramaphosa as party leader or grant him another five-year term.

If the ANC votes to extend his term, Ramaphosa will be able to continue as president and run for a second term on the ANC ticket in the 2024 general election, according to the Guardian.

The Right To Be Boring

FRANCE

France’s highest court ruled that a Paris-based consulting firm wrongfully dismissed an employee for not being “fun” enough at work, the Washington Post reported.

The case is related to a man who was fired from Cubik Partners in 2015 after refusing to participate in seminars and weekend social events. The company had described the dismissal as “professional incompetence,” accusing the man of not being able to accept feedback and differing points of view.

But the plaintiff’s lawyers said that the events included “excessive alcoholism” and “promiscuity.” The man noted that the firm’s “fun” culture included mock sexual acts and obligations to share his bed with another employee during work functions.

The court found that the man was entitled to “freedom of expression” and that refusing to participate in social events constituted a “fundamental freedom” protected by labor and human rights legislation and were not grounds for dismissal.

The case marks the latest instance where a company’s drinking culture has instigated legal disputes, the newspaper said.

In a lawsuit filed this year at a London court, an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers in England sued the firm for severe injuries he sustained during a work event that “made a competitive virtue” out of “excessive” drinking.

A number of recent cases have exposed the pervasiveness of alcohol in white-collar professional culture, especially after the #MeToo movement brought attention to workplace misconduct around the world. In order to avert such problems, several companies have implemented “booze chaperones” during business events.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

This week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the US and NATO of “directly participating” in the Ukraine war, saying that they are waging war against Russia “with the hands of Ukrainians,” USA Today reported. His remarks came on Thursday as Russian forces attempted to advance in eastern Ukraine and targeted Kherson in the south with tank, mortar, and artillery fire, Reuters added. Meanwhile, analysts predict that as the weather gets cold and returns to the frigid and muddy conditions that Russia’s invading soldiers faced at the start of the war, Moscow will face months of battle, military losses, and potential defeat, according to CNBC.

In other developments this week:

  • The EU’s executive body has asked the bloc’s 27 member nations to agree to a $60 a barrel price cap on Russian oil, the Wall Street Journal wrote. The cap would keep Russian crude prices much lower than the international benchmark, Brent, which was trading at around $88 a barrel on Thursday. If the EU agrees, the Group of Seven then needs to sign it off. The seven countries and Australia hope to have it operational by Dec. 5.
  • At the same time, the European Commission has proposed a special court to prosecute Russian war crimes in Ukraine, Politico noted. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has once again chastised Twitter CEO Elon Musk for proposing a peace treaty with Russia, even as he invited the Tesla and SpaceX founder to visit his war-torn country, Euronews wrote. Musk sparked outrage in October when he posted proposals for Ukraine war negotiations in a Twitter poll.
  • Germany’s parliament approved a resolution Wednesday recognizing the 1930s “Holodomor” in Ukraine as genocide, a famine thought to have killed more than 3 million Ukrainians during Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s harsh regime, the Associated Press reported.
  • Russia’s strikes on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure are forcing millions of Ukrainian refugees who planned to return home to instead stay abroad, prolonging their suffering and straining Europe’s ability to absorb one of the largest migration flows in more than 70 years, the Wall Street Journal said Moscow’s repeated strikes on power plants and heating infrastructure have resulted in rolling blackouts in Ukraine, robbing millions of people of power, heating, and running water in subzero temperatures.

DISCOVERIES

Pots and Bullets

Archaeologists in Guatemala recently found a trove of artifacts at the site of the last Mayan city to resist Spanish conquest centuries ago, helping to better illuminate how this civilization once lived, Agence France-Presse reported.

The treasures include burial grounds, ceramics, and bullets from the Tayasal outpost where the Maya first settled in 900 BCE. The Maya civilization flourished between 250 and 900 AD in what is now southern Mexico and Guatemala, as well as in sections of present-day Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras.

The findings are part of the excavation project that began last June to better understand the city’s history. Tayasal was the last Maya city to surrender to the Spanish during their conquest in 1697 CE, a century after conquistadors entered the western highlands of what is now Guatemala.

​​“More than 100 years passed in which the northern part of Guatemala was totally outside of Spanish rule, and this happened mainly because the jungle functioned as a natural border that made the arrival of the Spaniards to these places very difficult,” said Suarlin Cordova, the archaeologist in charge.

The Spanish made several failed attempts at conquest including one led by famed conquistador Hernán Cortés himself, who gave up.

Researchers said that most of the buildings at the site are buried under earth and vegetation inside a roughly 3-square-mile area. A nearly 100-foot-high acropolis that served as the residence of the governing elite is partially uncovered along with an ancient well.

Guatemalan officials noted that one of the main aims of the project is to enhance the site so that tourists may better “appreciate” the archaeological worth of the region.

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