The World Today for January 20, 2023

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Rags to Riches

BOTSWANA

Sprawling, landlocked, relatively lightly populated Botswana enjoys a higher gross domestic product per capita than neighboring continental economic powerhouse South Africa.

As the South African newspaper the Daily Maverick explained, Botswanans earn around $9,200 on average annually, compared with South Africans who make $7,200. That achievement is all the more remarkable because Botswana only had around six miles of roads when it became independent from the United Kingdom in the mid-1960s. At the time, it was one of the poorest countries in the world; per capita GDP then was only $70 a year.

Billions in foreign energy projects, buoyed by high energy prices, as well as high prices in diamonds – the country is the second biggest diamond exporter in the world – have helped the nation prosper, Bloomberg wrote. A successful campaign against HIV has also boosted the country’s economy and attractiveness to foreign capital, according to Agence France-Presse.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi also managed to control the spread of Covid-19 during the pandemic, executed a well-run vaccination campaign, and managed recent chaotic global economic conditions well, wrote the Brookings Institution. Prince Harry even recently had a shoutout to the country.

Not everything in the country is wine and roses, though.

Botswanan authorities have issued an arrest warrant for former President Ian Khama on charges of illegally possessing firearms, the Associated Press noted. Kharma is now residing in South Africa, so he is out of the authorities’ reach. He has asked a judge to throw out the charges. But the back-and-forth shows how changes are roiling the country’s politics.

Khama’s father was Botswana’s first president, Seretse Khama, Reuters explained. Ian Khama initially supported Masisi, who succeeded him in 2018, but they fell out, forcing Khama to leave the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. Masisi now rules with a strong hand. For example, the press faces significant challenges in performing its job effectively, argued Reporters Without Borders.

And while officials have significantly curbed rhino poaching in the country’s famously vast wildlife preserves, as Voice of America reported, researchers suggested that poachers might have simply reduced the numbers of the animals and moved on.

Elephant poaching remains an issue throughout the region, too, noted the Economist. In fact, Botswana has also come under fire for seeking to sell the ivory it has accumulated from poaching, the Independent added. International authorities have prohibited such sales, which could incentivize further poaching.

Despite lingering or new issues, Botswana has made real strides in laying a political and social infrastructure to tackle its problems effectively. And for that, observers say, the sense of positive movement in the country is gratefully real.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Showdown

ISRAEL

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the removal of a senior member of the newly formed government this week, a ruling that highlights the brewing showdown between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition and the country’s judiciary, CBS News reported.

The top court ruled that Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, cannot hold public office because of his “backlog of criminal convictions.” Deri was recently appointed health minister and interior minister.

However, Deri has been convicted of – and served jail time for – breach of trust and financially related crimes, according to the Washington Post. Last year, he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and received a suspended sentence after vowing that he would not serve in government.

But last month, lawmakers passed a law that allows anyone convicted of offenses but not given a custodial sentence to serve as a minister.

In a joint statement, Netanyahu’s coalition slammed the court’s decision, but implied that it had no intention of violating the ruling.

Even so, some Shas representatives warned that without Deri, “there will be no government,” raising concerns that the new coalition could collapse just three weeks into its term.

The developments come as the new government – made up of right-wing and religious parties – is planning a major judicial overhaul that has prompted massive protests across Israel.

The overhaul would include handing more powers to lawmakers regarding the appointment of judges and weakening the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down legislation.

Wolves and Henhouses

GUATEMALA

Guatemalan authorities issued a series of arrest warrants against anticorruption officials this week, a development that has raised fears about democratic backsliding in the Central American country, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The warrants target dozens of judges and prosecutors who were involved in fighting corruption in the government, including those who cooperated with the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

This week, prosecutors said they are investigating former CICIG chief, Iván Velásquez, for alleged bribery.

Established in 2006, the commission investigated and prosecuted corruption in Guatemala by opening its own probes and working with the country’s attorney general’s office to bring cases to court.

During his tenure, Velásquez – who currently serves as Colombia’s defense minister – had participated in the prosecution of many high-profile Guatemalans for corruption, including the heads of Guatemala’s central bank and political party leaders.

But in 2019, the Guatemalan government dismantled the commission, accusing it of abusing its authority and violating the constitution. It subsequently began launching investigations of judges and prosecutors who worked with the commission, prompting many of them to flee the country.

The probe against Velásquez has caused a rift between Guatemala and Colombia, with Colombian President Gustavo Petro saying that his government will shield the defense minister from prosecution.

Meanwhile, analysts noted that Guatemala’s moves are also damaging bilateral relations with the US, as the latter seeks to curb illegal migration into the US by strengthening Guatemala’s rule of law and its fight against corruption.

Over the past two years, more than 507,000 Guatemalans have been detained by US officials along the southwestern border, according to the US Customs and Border Protection force.

Bowing Out

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would resign next month, ahead of an October election that promises to highlight the deepening political and economic challenges facing the country, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The progressive leader announced Thursday that she was stepping down on Feb. 7 because she was unable to muster the energy for another term in office. She said she will remain a lawmaker until April.

Labour lawmakers will elect a new party leader in three days, she added.

Elected in 2017 and reelected by a landslide in 2020, Ardern has been considered a global icon for progressives. During her tenure, she gave birth while in office and even brought her daughter to the floor of the United Nations.

She garnered international attention in 2019 for her response to the massacre of 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch by a gunman professing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Soon after the attack, the outgoing leader imposed temporary restrictions on the purchase of guns, followed by the passage of a law a few weeks later that banned most semi-automatic weapons.

While she remained personally popular, her party has been facing major challenges in recent months over economic woes. House prices in the country fell 12 percent last year and borrowers are at risk of negative equity, as they grapple with the rising costs of living and spiking inflation.

A perceived increase in violent crime has also seen the party decline in the polls.

Analysts noted that her resignation came as a surprise to many New Zealanders, adding that her resignation could spell trouble for the Labour Party and its successor ahead of the elections.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

This week, a helicopter carrying top Ukrainian officials crashed in a Kyiv suburb, killing a senior member of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s cabinet and more than a dozen others, the New York Times reported. Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, a trusted adviser of Zelenskyy, died in the crash, along with his top deputy, leaving a vacuum at the top of the ministry in charge of domestic security overseeing the country’s police, its national guard and border patrol units.

Monastyrsky’s death came just days after Belarus and Russia began joint military exercises, adding to fears that Moscow will use its ally to launch a new ground offensive, as it did with the invasion in February, NBC News wrote. Meanwhile, Ukraine has been pleading with Western nations for tanks, even though Germany has stated that it will neither allow allies to deliver German-made tanks to Ukraine nor will it deploy its own systems – unless the US agrees to deliver American-made battle tanks, the Wall Street Journal added.

Germany’s announcement came a day after the government appointed Boris Pistorius as the country’s new defense minister Tuesday, following the resignation of his predecessor, Christine Lambrecht, Politico noted. Lambrecht stepped down following a series of gaffes and failures, a move that left Germany without a clear military leadership ahead of the crucial meeting to discuss tank deliveries.

In other news:

  • Kazakhstan has changed its entry rules for foreigners, making it harder for Russians fleeing military conscription to enter and stay in the country, the Washington Post said. At the same time, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić – a Russian ally – slammed the Russian mercenary Wagner Group for trying to recruit soldiers from his country after the group ran an advertisement in local media for Serbs to fight in Ukraine, according to Al Jazeera.
  • The United Nations’ cultural organization is training law enforcement and judiciary officials from nations along Ukraine’s western borders to prevent the trafficking of looted cultural artifacts from the country in the midst of Russia’s war on its neighbor, the Associated Press reported.

DISCOVERIES

The Shouting Cetaceans

It’s not uncommon to see city folks screaming into their phones, trying to be heard over the din of traffic and road construction.

Sadly, noise pollution means that even dolphins have to “shout” to hear each other, the New York Times reported.

Dolphins communicate with each other through sound, including whistling to signal their presence to their peers.

But decades of human-made noise pollution – sourcing from shipping traffic, or oil and gas exploration for example – have made life difficult for the marine mammals.

A new study found that too much noise can also impact dolphins’ ability to communicate and cooperate with each other, for example, while hunting.

Scientists conducted a series of experiments with two dolphins at the US-based Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys. The two mammals were trained to swim to different parts of their habitat and press a button within one second of each other.

Researchers explained that the creatures would talk to each other using whistles, and would whistle just before pressing the button.

But as the noise increased, the team found that the cetaceans amplified their whistles, doubled the length of their calls and paid greater attention to each other’s location. These changes were necessary to compensate for the noisy environment, they added.

And the noisier it became, the more the duo’s success rate in pressing the buttons dropped.

This is the first time scientists have investigated how anthropogenic sounds can muck up animals’ ability to cooperate.

“We’re absolutely impacting animals in this way already,” said Shane Gero, a whale biologist who wasn’t involved in the study. “The unfortunate reality is that, in some ways, this story is 35 to 50 years late.”

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