The World Today for April 06, 2023

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The Hero and the Strongman


When ethnic Hutu militants committed genocide against members of the minority ethnic Tutsi community in Rwanda in the mid-1990s, hotelier Paul Rusesabagina sought to give refuge to more than 1,000 people. His life story inspired the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” a gripping tragedy that sought to explain how the United Nations and others failed to prevent politically choreographed mass slaughter.

To many people around the world, Rusesabagina, now 68, is the hero of that sad chapter in the East African country’s history. Yet until recently he was in prison in Rwanda because of his alleged ties with an armed group that opposes Rwandan President Paul Kagame. As Reuters reported, Rusesabagina had been a permanent resident of the US for more than 10 years, though he expressed interest in running for president of his homeland in 2016.

In 2019, Rusesabagina boarded a private plane that he thought was going to Burundi but instead landed in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, where police arrested him. As the New York Times wrote, he was in effect kidnapped. Convicted on terrorism charges in a deeply flawed trial, he faced 25 years in prison. Recently, however, after the US interceded on his behalf, he was released and was back in Houston, CNN added.

He was likely not the first political dissident to fall prey to Rwandan agents on foreign shores. Citing classified FBI reports, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project demonstrated how Rwandan agents used “poison pen information,” or fabricated allegations, to attempt to convince American law enforcement agencies to deport Kagame’s enemies living in the US. Interpol revoked an arrest warrant for a Kagame critic after officials learned that Rwanda’s claims against him were baseless, too.

Kagame has also come under pressure for his administration’s treatment of political dissidents within the country.

Leaders of political parties who run against Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front – the party that has ruled since its armed wing won the country’s civil war and ended the genocide in 1994 – go to jail, disappear, or die without explanation, wrote Rwandan political activist Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza in Al Jazeera. Deutsche Welle assembled a list of Rwandan activists within and outside of the country who have perished under mysterious circumstances. American diplomats have also issued warnings about Kagame’s authoritarianism – despite Rwanda’s importance to the US, being a small but important ally in its push to counter Chinese and Russian influence on the continent.

A Rwandan government spokesperson told Britain’s Channel 4 News that there was “nothing wrong with human rights” in her country.

As human rights officials have pointed out, that might be true if one thinks jailing opponents after show trials is just fine.


Passing on the Buck


India plans to promote the use of its currency for international trade as part of a push to bolster its exports in countries that are dealing with shortages of US dollars or have been hit with Western sanctions, the Voice of America reported.

Recently, New Delhi signed a deal with Malaysia that will pave the way for trade in Indian rupees. It is also looking to trade in rupees with bigger partners, including key oil producers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The ambitious initiative underscores recent efforts by India and other countries searching for alternatives to the dollar, which has dominated international trade for decades.

It also follows Western sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, which has prompted New Delhi and Moscow to trade in currencies other than the dollar. India has not joined the US-led sanction regime and its imports of cheaper Russian crude have increased sharply in the past year.

Trade analysts said the dollar’s strength has also posed a challenge for developing nations in the past year, which have seen their import bills increase because of the strength of the dollar.

They noted that the initiative aims to support the Indian rupee as a substitute to Western currencies, as well as promote India’s trade with South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – both of which are struggling with dollar shortages.

Although the effort to boost rupee-based trade is still in its early phase, the Malaysia deal and the rupee-ruble payment mechanism with Moscow will serve as test cases as to the feasibility of trading in the Indian currency.

Meanwhile, Malaysia and China voiced support this week to form an “Asian Monetary Fund” in an effort to decrease the reliance on the dollar and the International Monetary Fund, according to Bloomberg.

Loyalty vs. Money


Belize and Guatemala reaffirmed diplomatic ties with Taiwan this week following a visit by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen who has been traveling across Central America in an effort to shore up a dwindling number of allies, the Associated Press reported.

The Central American nations are two of Taiwan’s 13 remaining formal allies across the world, a number that has decreased over the years amid Chinese efforts to diplomatically isolate the self-governing island.

Tsai’s visit followed a move by Honduras last month to become the latest country to eschew relations with Taiwan in favor of China, a deal sweetened by a $300 million hydroelectric dam project in central Honduras to be built by a Chinese company.

Beijing considers Taiwan as part of its territory and has employed a mix of diplomatic pressure and economic incentives to coax Taipei’s allies to sever ties.

Honduras’ diplomatic shift also underscores China’s rising role in Latin America: Over the past two decades, Beijing has poured money into the region, investing in major infrastructure and space projects.

According to the United States Institute of Peace, the Chinese invested more than $130 billion in Latin America between 2005 and 2020. Trade between China and the region has also increased, and is predicted to rise to top $700 billion by 2035.

Taiwan, meanwhile, has been treading water.

Barefoot in the Kitchen


Taliban officials banned women from working for the United Nations this week, the latest restriction the armed group has imposed on Afghan women since it took control of Afghanistan in 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The UN said Tuesday that Taliban authorities prevented female Afghan staff from entering its offices in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Although the ban was enforced in only one province, UN officials added that the restriction is applicable across the whole country.

One Taliban representative said he had no knowledge of the ban, while the Foreign Ministry did not comment on the matter.

The international organization criticized the move and warned that the UN’s entities “cannot operate and deliver lifesaving assistance without female staff.”

Working for the UN was one of the last areas of employment left for women in Afghanistan, who have experienced increasing restrictions since the Taliban took over nearly two years ago following the withdrawal of US-led foreign troops. Then, the Taliban promised to refrain from restrictions on women and girls.

Last year, the Islamist group barred teenage girls from attending school and later extended the ban to universities. In December, they prohibited women from working for non-governmental organizations – except the UN.

The restrictions could further jeopardize the UN’s efforts to raise $4.6 billion to provide emergency aid to more than half of the population of Afghanistan. According to UN officials, the Taliban’s gender-discriminatory efforts have made it more difficult to raise funds from donors.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have accused the international community of politicizing aid and expressed frustration that other countries are focusing only on the issue of women.

The group has said that it is adhering to Islamic and Afghan culture, adding that some restrictions are temporary until they establish separate facilities for men and women. But despite assurances from some ministers, the ban on girls attending high school still persists.


Avian Rest Stops

Everyone needs a little pitstop during long journeys. So do birds.

A new study found that some migratory birds occasionally take breaks on long migration routes to boost their immunity, the Washington Post reported.

A research team closely studied a group of migratory birds making stops on the German Island of Heligoland during the fall of 2021. The island is a popular stopover for avians on the move in autumn.

The researchers captured, tagged, and released the birds on the island during the study. They ended up sampling the blood of 96 birds twice throughout the stopovers, which ranged from an hour to a little more than two weeks.

Scientists previously believed that birds would sometimes stop during their marathon flights to build up their fat reserves.

Instead, their findings showed that the birds’ immune systems became more efficient at fighting pathogens during the layover. The immune boost was not connected to their fat levels, the team explained.

Researchers said that instead, the boosted immune systems arose from the much-needed rest from the strains of marathon migration, from factors such as the sheer physical exertion and then exposure to pathogens from new habitats.

“If you see a little bird in your garden or in the park during the autumn and you know that it is heading to southern Europe or Africa, it is fascinating to think about why it is taking a break,” said co-author Arne Hegemann in a news release. “If they do not get food or rest, their immune systems cannot recover, which is when they risk becoming ill.”

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