The World Today for January 26, 2023

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NEED TO KNOW

The Morning After

ETHIOPIA

The war between Ukraine and Russia has understandably garnered much attention over the past year. While that carnage has unfolded, however, another bloodbath recently was to end in the Horn of Africa.

Approximately 600,000 people died in the two-year-long war that pitted Ethiopia’s central government in Addis Ababa and its allies in Eritrea against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a paramilitary force based in the country’s north, reported the National. The three sides signed a peace agreement ending the hostilities in early November.

Now the world is wondering how Ethiopia will put itself back together.

The war has ravaged the country, which had until recently been growing economically and gaining diplomatic stature for its stabilizing role in the region. Launched by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending a war with Eritrea, the war has also displaced and, coming as food and energy prices have spiked, impoverished millions. Mass starvation is now sweeping through the country, the BBC warned.

Both sides allegedly committed horrific human rights violations in the fighting, including “extrajudicial killings, rapes and looting,” according to Reuters. The government and the TPLF deny the allegations.

Ethnic Tigrayans are a minority in Ethiopia but the TPLF dominated Ethiopian government coalitions for decades, explained the New York Times. In 2018, nationwide protests erupted over their corrupt and oppressive rule, giving Abiy and his new Prosperity Party an opportunity to rise to power. He then used the fighting to give Tigrayan territory to another ethnic group, the Amharas, who had ruled the country through the fall of the Ethiopian Empire in 1974, added Harper’s Magazine.

Today, after the violence committed on both sides has led to “deep fault lines” between the two sides, as the Economist wrote, many Tigrayans no longer identify with Ethiopia, noted Ethiopian Insight, a local news website. Government troops, local Amhara forces and Eritrean soldiers were still occupying the territory in mid-January.

So while the peace deal has resumed humanitarian aid and restored telephone links and electricity to Tigray, many residents there fear violence because of the remaining soldiers from Eritrea, who were supposed to pull out of the region, and who are blamed for a wave of atrocities during the war, the Washington Post wrote.

The soldiers are continuing to loot and rape, the newspaper said.

“We are not at peace when we live in fear,” one resident told the Post.

As the Associated Press reported, the French and German foreign ministers who recently visited Ethiopia used the occasion to call for justice for those who were victimized during the war. “There is no peace that can be lasting without justice,” said French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, adding that Europe would only reengage with Abiy’s government when he had demonstrated that justice would be done.

With the Tigrayans reduced to supplicants, foreign governments might be the only ones who will be able to keep Abiy and his allies accountable, and force the Eritreans to withdraw.

That’s necessary because a lasting peace only comes with security and reconciliation. And it’s a process likely to take years.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Dragnet

SPAIN

Russia’s military intelligence agency is suspected of directing a Russia-based white supremacist group to carry out the letter bombing campaign in Spain last year, the Moscow Times reported.

In late November and early December, six letter bombs were addressed to prominent government, military and diplomatic targets in Spain, including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, as well as the American and Ukrainian embassies.

The attempt prompted Spanish authorities to increase security and reaffirm their support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian troops who had invaded the country.

So far, Spanish police have detained a 74-year-old man alleged to have made and sent the letter bombs, Reuters added.

US officials told the New York Times that Russia’s GRU agency used the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), a radical group with members and associates across Europe, as a proxy for the campaign.

The US and Canada have branded the RIM as a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, many details of the campaign remain murky, like how exactly it was directed and carried out, for example. Questions also remain as to how much knowledge the Russian government or President Vladimir Putin had of the campaign, according to CNN.

Despite the fact that the RIM has denounced the Kremlin’s military effort in Ukraine and accused Putin of corruption, the Times noted that the GRU has been able to influence the group’s operations because it holds similar anti-Western sentiments.

While Moscow is not considered to be ready to carry out extensive covert attacks or sabotage in Europe, US officials warned that if Russia continues to suffer big defeats in Ukraine, this might change.

Left Behind

BRAZIL

The Brazilian government ordered an investigation into the potential crimes of genocide against Brazil’s Yanomami people this week, as the Indigenous community grapples with malnutrition and disease that officials have directly linked to illegal mining, the Washington Post reported.

Justice Minister Flávio Dino said he had requested federal police to investigate possible genocide, environmental offenses and also the embezzlement and “siphoning of public funds meant for Indigenous health care.”

His announcement came days after the government declared a medical emergency in Yanomami territory, the country’s largest Indigenous reserve and which is located between the northern Roraima and Amazonas states.

Since then, the government has sent aid and personnel to the area which hosts 30,000 Indigenous people.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the area over the weekend after a local news outlet published photos of malnourished children from the Yanomami community.

Lula said the limited available data showed that at least 570 children younger than five had died of preventable illness in the area over the past four years.

He and his officials blamed the previous government for the crisis.

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rejected the accusations as a “left-wing farce.” During his 2019-2023 term, the conservative leader allowed mining in Indigenous territories, while deforestation in the Amazon hit a 15-year high.

A report by the Brazilian nonprofit Socio-Environmental Institute said the total area of Yanomami land destroyed by mining increased from about 3,000 acres noted in October 2018 – when monitoring began – to 8,085 acres in December 2021.

The institute added that the region has been associated with infectious diseases and mercury contaminating water supplies. There have also been complaints that medicine intended for the Indigenous community has been diverted.

Rethinking Friendship

MOROCCO

Moroccan lawmakers voted unanimously to review the country’s relationship with the European Parliament this week after the latter passed a resolution urging the North African nation to respect press freedoms, Agence France-Presse reported.

Both Moroccan houses of parliament agreed to “reconsider (their) relations with the European Parliament and submit them for an overall evaluation.” The review could impact a 1996 agreement between Morocco and the European Union, which links the two with tight economic and commercial relations.

Last week, European lawmakers voted on a non-binding resolution asking Morocco to “respect freedom of expression and media freedom,” and to “guarantee imprisoned journalists … a fair trial.”

The resolution arose over the arrest of two prominent Moroccan journalists, who were both sentenced last year on sexual abuse charges.

Moroccan lawmakers and the government criticized the resolution as an attack on the country’s sovereignty, adding that it had “seriously harmed the fundamental trust” between Morocco and the EU.

Some lawmakers also blamed Morocco’s former colonial power, France, for pushing the measure. They made reference to warming ties between France and Algeria, Morocco’s neighbor and rival – and a major exporter of gas to Europe.

The recent developments come as tensions between Morocco and the bloc have risen in recent weeks following a corruption scandal involving European lawmakers taking bribes from Qatar as well as Morocco.

Both countries have denied the accusations.

DISCOVERIES

It’s Complicated

Walking looks very simple. It’s not.

Part of the reason it’s complicated in humans is because of the shape of the foot – an oddity in the animal kingdom – and our strange gait.

When walking, people exhibit a “double-bounce” walking pattern: The first bounce helps the foot absorb the impact of the body’s weight as it hits the ground. The second one’s purpose, though, scientists haven’t understood – until now.

Recently, biomechanists determined that the second bounce is an energy-saving technique that allows humans to walk by prioritizing endurance over speed, Wired Magazine reported.

In their paper, researchers simplified the foot-leg system to just the four joints at the hip, knee, ankle and toes in order to model the physical forces that propel the double-bounce.

They used data collected from 21 people walking on a treadmill and described the foot’s heel-to-toe stride as if it were a simple object rolling on the ground.

The findings showed two competing factors that influence the foot’s movement: The force of the upper body holding it fixed to the ground, and the torque of the ankle attempting to rotate the leg into swing.

The team explained that as long as the force of the upper body is larger than the ankle’s torque, humans can stay upright. But the longer this occurs, the harder the ankle works to overcome it, resulting in generating enough power to thrust the leg forward – in the second bounce.

Researchers suggested that this energy-saving technique was evolutionarily advantageous to our human ancestors because it helped them walk for longer periods without getting tired.

They also believe that understanding the second bounce can help improve prosthetic and robotic designs, and provide insight into the evolutionary stresses our ancestors experienced.

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Correction: In Monday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “The Celtic Conundrum” item that the number of deaths from Covid-19 is currently surpassing the number in late 2021. In fact, while Ireland has seen a huge spike in excess mortality that rivals the peak of the pandemic, Covid-19 is no longer the primary cause of death. We apologize for the error.

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