The World Today for December 15, 2022

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White Rock Politics


Braima Seidi Ba and Ricardo Ariza Monje thought they could stuff nearly 2 tons of cocaine into flour bags and elude authorities in Guinea-Bissau, a tiny West African country that serves as a transit point for drugs between Europe, Africa and the rest of the world.

They got arrested in 2019 and lost their drugs in the country’s biggest-ever drug seizure. But they were still correct in their assumption. Ba, a citizen of Guinea-Bissau, and Monje, a Colombian, were sentenced to 16 years in prison. But, as Reuters reported, the country’s top court overturned their convictions, saying the evidence was insufficient to prove their guilt.

Critics of Guinea-Bissau’s government under President Umaro Sissoco Embalo said the court’s decision was yet another sign of Embalo wielding excessive influence over the judicial system, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime, a Switzerland-based think tank, wrote. Others made bolder claims concerning the court’s decision and the country’s political system. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project argued that “cocaine cartels” have effectively highjacked state institutions.

These issues are top of mind for voters in the country as they go to the polls to elect a new legislature on Dec. 18.

To say Guinea-Bissau is unstable is an understatement, say analysts. President Embalo won reelection in 2020 on a pledge to bring peace to the country that has experienced four coups since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974. Earlier this year, he claimed to squelch another coup that was in the offing, reported Radio France Internationale.

Then, in May, Embalo dissolved parliament, saying it was achieving nothing due to irreconcilable differences. The opposition African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, PAIGC, happened to be the majority in the chamber at the time. Masked gunmen also raided the PAIGC’s headquarters in February after a supposed coup, added Agence France-Presse.

In the run-up to the elections, human rights activists are afraid of what PAIGC supporters and Embalo’s allies in the Movement for Democratic Alternation, Group of 15 political party, also known as Madem-G15, might do to win. They fear politicians might stir up internecine tensions to drive their voters to the polls and frighten their opponents.

“It is very worrying, and we are approaching the elections,” Guinean Human Rights League President Augusto Mário Silva told the Macau News Agency. “We need to reactivate the electoral code of conduct, we need to raise the necessary awareness so that our populations, which have been magnificent in this respect and have resisted attempts at religious or ethnic manipulation, so that they remain more resilient to these phenomena.”

A good place to start to foster resiliency might be getting the cocaine out of politics.


Closing a Long Chapter


A French court handed down prison terms Tuesday for eight individuals convicted for their involvement in the 2016 terrorist attack in Nice when an extremist drove a truck into crowds on the city’s Promenade des Anglais killing 86 and injuring more than 450, Agence France-Presse reported.

The individuals – seven men and one woman – were given sentences from two to 18 years for aiding Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel in organizing the attack during Bastille Day.

Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian, was later shot dead by police. His body was reportedly repatriated to Tunisia in 2017 and buried in his hometown. Tunisian authorities have not confirmed this.

Following his attack, Islamic State claimed Bouhlel was one of its followers but investigators have not found any concrete links between Bouhlel and the terrorist group.

The 2016 attack closely followed other attacks in France by Muslim extremists, including the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo killings, and the November 13 attacks later that year on the Bataclan nightclub and other venues in Paris that killed 130 people.

Laurence Bray, one of the attack victims who attended the sentencing, said she was “very happy” that two of the suspects were sentenced to 18 years, more than the 15 years prosecutors had requested.

“But then again, for everyone who lost a loved one, 18 years is nothing,” she added.

Winner, Winner


Voters in Fiji went to the polls Wednesday to decide which party would govern the archipelago against a backdrop of rising inflation and questions about democracy in the country, Reuters reported.

Wednesday’s race pits the FijiFirst party of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama – a former coup leader – against the opposition People’s Alliance Party. The incumbent is in a tight race against another coup leader and one-time prime minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, whose political group formed a coalition with Fiji’s oldest political party.

Results could come as late as Sunday, the Australian Associated Press reported. Shortly after polls closed an election results app showing the People’s Alliance Party leading in provisional results “went dark” for several hours, before returning online showing FijiFirst in the lead, prompting calls from opposition parties for the count to stop, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Meanwhile, voter turnout in the third democratic election since Bainimarama’s 2006 coup was less than 60 percent, according to observers, the lowest in a decade.

Despite leading a coup, the incumbent has a high international profile for climate change advocacy and has chaired the Pacific Islands Forum, the regional diplomatic bloc, as it sought this year to manage rising security tensions between the US and China.

Still, Rabuka expressed doubt Bainimarama would accept defeat, the newswire added.

Meanwhile, Fiji’s military commander told his soldiers to respect the outcome of the elections, saying that anything less would be an affront to democracy.

The Pacific nation has been marred by four coups since it gained independence in 1970.

Sticks, Stones and Words


The son of an Ethiopian academic filed a lawsuit against Facebook’s parent company Meta this week, accusing the company of failing to remove hateful and violent posts that led to the death of his father during Ethiopia’s ongoing civil war, the Washington Post reported.

Abrham Meareg Amare said his father, Tigrayan professor Meareg Amare Abrha, was gunned down in November 2021 after being targeted on Facebook with inaccurate posts. The son said he asked Facebook to remove the posts – including a photo of his father – but the company did not reply to him until after his father’s death.

His lawsuit – filed in Kenya’s High Court – also alleges that the social media giant’s algorithm is more likely to promote hateful and violent content because it increases engagement on the platform. It adds that Meta does not properly invest in content moderation in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

Ethiopia is in the midst of a civil conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls much of the northern Tigray region. The conflict began in November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched an offensive against the TPLF after the latter’s forces attacked an Ethiopian military base in the region.

Last year, the United Nations reported that both sides have “committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Following Amare’s legal filings, Meta representatives said in a statement that the firm uses feedback from civil society organizations and international agencies to guide its policies and safety activities in Ethiopia.

Even so, Facebook has also been accused of permitting posts that fuel violence in other conflicts, including Myanmar, where UN investigators said such content played a role in the genocide and displacement of the Rohingya minority.

Last year, a case was brought in federal court in California seeking to hold Meta accountable for promoting hate speech and disinformation about the Rohingya.


Old Divers

A new study has suggested that some dinosaur species had the ability to dive underwater similar to the way modern penguins do, the New York Times reported.

Paleontologists first discovered the fossilized remains of a duck-sized dinosaur in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert in 2008. Recently, they were able to properly analyze the fossils, which they described as “beautifully preserved.”

The extinct creature had a mouth full of more than 100 small, sharp teeth and sported a long, slender neck.

While those features pointed to a creature that had adapted to the underwater world, the research team noted that the orientation and shape of the ribs – which were slightly flattened – showed that it had a sleek body perfect for diving.

They named it Natovenator polydontus, which means “swimming hunter with many teeth.”

The discovery provides the earliest evidence that some dinosaurs could dive underwater, even though some researchers remain skeptical.

Paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim, who proposes that the large Spinosaur hunted underwater, noted that more evidence is needed, such as a thorough analysis of Natovenator’s biomechanical capabilities and more comparisons with other aquatic animals.

Still, others suggested that the findings provide more insights into how dinosaurs became so diverse over time.

“Finding semiaquatic dinosaurs means that the ecological diversity was very high in dinosaurs, and it could change our prejudice about the lifestyle of dinosaurs,” said co-author Yuong-Nam Lee.

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