The World Today for February 23, 2023

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Quite the Handoff


Rioters in Nigeria recently attacked banks and blockaded roads to express their anger over the scarcity of cash since the country’s central bank began replacing old banknotes with new, supposedly more secure designs of the local naira currency. A shortage of new notes means that many banks can’t give customers cash on demand.

As Agence France-Presse reported, the central bank, which has set and extended deadlines for bank account holders to convert their notes, is seeking to crack down on counterfeit money as well as illicit transactions in cash. But the policy is causing hardships on the streets.

“I don’t have any cash,” said Abraham Osundiran, a construction worker in Lagos and among the 40 percent of Nigerians without bank accounts and who only use cash in their daily transactions, told the BBC. “I’ve had to skip breakfast so I could come here, and I don’t know what I will eat for the rest of the day.”

The unrest comes as Nigerian voters prepare to cast ballots for a new president on Feb. 25, an election that is important for a few reasons. Nigeria’s population is becoming one of the world’s largest and the country is an important oil producer, Foreign Policy magazine wrote. Current President Muhammadu Buhari is leaving office after two terms grappling with Islamic terrorism, the coronavirus pandemic, and other crises. And, Al Jazeera noted, misinformation-fueled violence has marred Nigerian elections in the past.

A former military dictator who ran Nigeria in the 1980s, as the Council on Foreign Relations recalled, Buhari has not earned plaudits for respecting human rights. He has arguably comprised them while doing little to curb corruption, grow the economy or stop the jihadists and other militants who roam the country’s remote northeastern regions from killing, kidnapping and terrorizing with near impunity, added University of Lagos researcher Sa’eed Husaini in a New York Times op-ed. The US recently even announced new sanctions on Nigerians who impede the country’s democracy, The Hill noted.

Now Bola Tinubu, the candidate from Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress political party, is facing off against Atiku Abubakar of the primary opposition group, the Peoples Democratic Party, as well as underdog Peter Obi of the Labour Party. Remarkably, Obi is now leading in the polls, wrote Bloomberg, suggesting that voters want someone who will confront the corrupt elites in the two main parties that trade power in the capital of Abuja.

Buhari’s successor has much to do. The country’s oil industry is unproductive due to corruption and a lack of investment, according to Deutsche Welle. The Nigerian army is still battling Boko Haram fighters who are affiliated with the Islamic State, Nigeria’s the Guardian reported.

The country, though, is big enough and powerful enough to solve its problems. Many hope Buhari’s successor will make a strong start.


Guarding the Hen House


A US court convicted a former high-ranking Mexican official, who oversaw Mexico’s efforts to fight drug trafficking, of taking millions in bribes and aiding the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, the Washington Post reported.

A jury found top law enforcement official Genaro García Luna guilty of numerous charges Tuesday, including involvement in an ongoing criminal enterprise and international cocaine distribution.

García Luna ran Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency from 2001 to 2005 and was the country’s secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012. He also served as a point of contact for US officials working to combat drug trafficking in Mexico.

US authorities charged him in 2019 with acting as an enabler for the cartel. The prosecution has accused García Luna of taking millions of dollars “from the very people he was supposed to prosecute,” while helping arrest and sometimes kill members of rival cartels.

García Luna faces life in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for June 27.

The conviction comes at a time when organized criminal factions are competing for power over a large swathe of Mexican territory. According to Mexico’s crime statistics, homicides have hovered above 30,000 a year since 2019, just after Andrés Manuel López Obrador became president.

Observers noted that the case also underscores failures in the US counter-narcotics strategy in Mexico, which has prompted López Obrador to suggest that US intelligence agencies “need a shake-up, a review.”

Even so, García Luna’s conviction follows the controversial US case against former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos. In 2020, US authorities arrested him in Los Angeles on bribery and drug trafficking charges but later released him following pressure from the Mexican president.

The Echo Chamber


The only newspaper of Bangladesh’s main opposition party stopped publishing this week after a government suspension order was upheld by a government-affiliated body, raising concerns about the country’s press freedoms and political plurality, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Dainik Dinkal had been the voice of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for more than 30 years.

The newspaper was known to cover stories that mainstream publications – most of which are controlled by pro-government businesspeople – rarely do, including the arrests of BNP activists and supporters.

The issue began in December when authorities ordered the newspaper’s shutdown, saying Dainik Dinkal’s printing permit was canceled because it violated Bangladesh’s printing and publishing laws.

However, the publication continued to publish after lodging an appeal at the press council headed by a top high court judge.

But earlier this week, the council rejected the appeal, adding that the paper’s publisher Tarique Rahman – who is also the acting chief of the BNP – was a convicted criminal and was living abroad without handing over his position to another individual.

The newspaper noted that the authorities did not accept Rahman’s decision to resign and appoint a new publisher.

Journalists and unions staged small protests over the shutdown and described the government’s decision as a “reflection of the repression of opposition voices.”

The shutdown marks another instance of the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina silencing criticism and dissent. Bangladesh’s government has come under local and international scrutiny over what critics call creeping authoritarianism.

Last month, officials shut down 191 websites that it accused of disseminating “anti-state news,” citing intelligence reports.

Scrubbing the Past


Critics and authors are accusing a British publisher of Roald Dahl’s children’s books of censorship after it removed colorful language and phrases from some of the author’s classic works to make them more acceptable to modern young readers, the Associated Press reported.

New editions of Dahl’s works have been revised to remove contentious language relating to weight, mental health, gender and race.

For example, Augustus Gloop, a gluttonous character in the 1964 book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is no longer “enormously fat,” just “enormous.” In the new edition of “The Witches,” a supernatural female acting as a regular woman may work as a “top scientist or running a business,” rather than a “cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman.”

Award-winning author Salman Rushdie criticized the rewriting as “absurd censorship.” PEN America, a US-based nonprofit organization that works to defend and promote free speech, warned that such changes “risk distorting the work of great authors and clouding the essential lens that literature offers on society.”

The Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the books, countered that it had asked the publisher, Puffin Books, to revise the works because it wanted to ensure that Dahl’s stories will be enjoyed by all children today.

It said that any changes are “small and carefully considered.”

The alterations to Dahl’s works are the newest flashpoint in a cultural sensitivity debate: Some are trying to scrub offensive or outdated cultural, racial, and gender stereotypes from literature and other media, while others say revisions to accommodate 21st-century sensibilities risk compromising great artists’ creativity and preventing readers from addressing the world as was once perceived.

Dahl’s books have sold more than 300 million copies and have been translated into 68 languages.

Still, the renowned author, who passed away in 1990, remains a controversial figure because of the antisemitic comments he made during his lifetime and controversial elements in his works, such as describing the Oompa Loompa workers in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory as African pygmies.

The fictional characters were recast in later editions as fictional creatures from Loompaland, according to the New York Times.

In 2020, the Dahl family apologized, saying it recognized the “lasting and understandable hurt caused by Roald Dahl’s antisemitic statements.”


A Quiet Existence

Frogs come in different shapes and sizes – they also vary by ability: Some can turn translucent, for example, while others ooze out deadly venom. And then there are those that are, well, just not such great leapers.

Now, scientists found a species of frog that doesn’t make any sound at all, even the iconic croaking, Science News reported.

In a new study, biologists wrote that they found the tiny frog – nearly one-inch-long – in Tanzania’s Ukaguru Mountains in 2019.

Naming it Hyperolius ukaguruensis, they said the amphibian belongs to a group of seven voiceless species known as spiny-throated reed frogs that reside in East Africa.

But the new frog looks quite different from its relatives: It has smaller eyes and its skin is gold and brown, while the other frogs are green and silver.

The team then conducted a DNA test and found that H. ukaguruensis was genetically distinct from the other spiny-throated reed frogs.

So how do they communicate?

Because they lack a voice, researchers believe the spines on the males’ throats help their female counterparts recognize potential mates via touch.

“We think they may use the spine as something like Braille for species recognition,” the study’s co-author Lucinda Lawson said in a statement. “Without a call, they need some other way to recognize each other.”

Lawson and her colleagues noted that all the spiny-throated reed frogs are in small populations and are more likely to be endangered.

Finding a new member of the species is a major win for conservation efforts as organizations and governments can begin preservation efforts in regions that host the frog groups, they added.

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