The World Today for May 17, 2023

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Wobbly Dominoes


The civil war in Sudan has claimed hundreds of lives and forced more than 160,000 people to flee to Chad, South Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia since it began in mid-April, according to the New York Times.

International observers are now wondering if the war-torn African nation might export more trouble to its neighbors in the coming days and weeks.

“Sudan has seven neighbors, all of whom have some degree of chronic instability,” American University international politics professor Kwaku Nwamah told VOA. “This conflict can go regional in a minute. It could even spill over across the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia and Yemen. So, there’s a whole bunch of things that can go wrong in that region.”

Countries like Chad have been grappling with the legacies of colonialism, corruption and incompetence, Islamic terrorism, and other challenges for decades. Now the influx of weapons into Sudan might spread into the country and find their way into the hands of the Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State West Africa Province.

One of the factions in the civil war, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – whose leader, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), is seeking to oust Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto ruler – has ties to the Janjaweed, a Sudanese-Arab paramilitary group that committed atrocities in Darfur in southwestern Sudan in the 2000s. Janjaweed fighters now also operate in Chad and potentially Yemen, too. Their links to other extremist groups could cause untold chaos in the region, wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

Hemedti has close ties with the United Arab Emirates, for example, added Andreas Krieg, a professor of Defense Studies at King’s College in London, in the Middle East Eye. The oil-rich UAE, meanwhile, is a hub for dark money for violent factions in Libya as well as the Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary contractor that has expanded its presence from Europe to the Middle East and across Africa. Hemedti sent 1,000 RSF fighters to Libya in 2019 to help Khalifa Haftar, who enjoys the UAE’s support.

Meanwhile, armed “fortune seekers” are flooding into the Sudanese fight from across Africa’s Sahel region, including from Mali, Chad, Niger (and possibly the Central African Republic), UN special representative Volker Perthes has said, warning that “their number is not insignificant,” reported Agence France Presse. They can earn more in Sudan than at home, analysts say.

These shifts are also happening while the geopolitical order is rebalancing to accommodate the US’ diminished role as a global superpower, as the Iraq fiasco, the American pullout from Afghanistan, and a host of other developments evince, said Middle East Monitor.

Consequently, because Sudan is located so strategically – at the headwater of the Nile, on the Red Sea, and on the edge of the Middle East – and because US influence in the region is waning, China, Russia, and other powers have been deploying diplomatic, military, economic, and other resources to make sure they determine Sudan and the region’s future, University of Washington historian Christopher Tounsel noted in the Conversation.

It’s a powder keg, a free-for-all, and a tragedy wrapped into one. And it could become much, much worse.


No Fault Here


Energy giant ExxonMobil settled a decades-long lawsuit filed by villagers in the western Indonesian province of Aceh, who alleged that soldiers the company had hired to guard a natural gas facility in the area committed torture, murder, and other human rights abuses, Al Jazeera reported Tuesday.

Between 1999 and 2003, ExxonMobil contracted Indonesian soldiers to guard the oil and gas plant in the city of Lhoksukon.

In 2001, 11 villagers filed a suit against the company alleging that the hired troops committed a series of crimes against locals, including murder, sexual assault, and torture.

At the time, the Indonesian army had deployed thousands of troops in Aceh to quell a long-running rebellion by pro-independence fighters.

ExxonMobil had denied any knowledge of human rights violations. The firm countered that it could not be held accountable for any abuses because it did not order or authorize them.

The parties were set to go on trial in Washington DC next week. But both sides released a joint statement Monday, saying they have agreed to resolve “all matters.”

Agnieszka Fryszman, a lawyer for the villagers, said the terms were confidential but added that the plaintiffs “were able to secure a measure of justice for them and their families.”

A representative from the oil and gas giant also said that ExxonMobil “condemns human rights violations in any form, those include the actions asserted in this case against the Indonesian military.”

Funny Money


The Swedish government is drafting a new law that would allow the country to veto foreign investments on national security grounds, a move that Sweden’s business lobby worries would impact investment in the wealthy Nordic nation, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

The proposal comes a month after an investigation from public broadcaster Sveriges Television found that around 1,500 Swedish companies from various sectors – including car manufacturer Volvo – have Chinese owners.

Sweden’s move follows similar initiatives in the European Union with many nations in the bloc rethinking their relations with China. Sweden is one of the few EU countries with no specific legislation barring foreign investments on security grounds.

If approved, the new bill could change that, which has prompted concerns from the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. The business group noted that an emphasis on security in international trade relations could come with economic risks and hinder Sweden’s reputation as an investment destination.

More than half of Sweden’s gross domestic product derives from exports. Meanwhile, the Nordic nation is working to become a hub for green technologies.

The focus on green technology has led to a number of Chinese companies setting up operations in Sweden and supplying vital components to the emerging sector.

Despite concerns, some Chinese companies and investors said they do not expect a big impact on their businesses from the proposed legislation.

The Other Victims


A new Chilean law will provide financial aid to children whose mothers were killed by their current or former partners, a move the government hopes will address the issue of femicide across Chile and Latin America, the BBC reported.

Passed in April, the “Reparation Law for Victims of Femicide” provides a number of benefits to children and the relatives of femicide victims.

These include a monthly state allowance of $200 until the child is 18 years old, and employment protection for survivors of attempted femicides. The legislation also offers family members priority access to social services, such as psychological counseling.

The new bill came around the same time that a Chilean court sentenced a man to life imprisonment for murdering his former partner four years ago.

Police had initially ruled the death of 25-year-old Silvana Garrido as a suicide, but last month a court found her former partner, Fernando Flores, guilty of femicide.

Under the new reparation law, Garrido’s daughter is eligible to receive the monthly state allowance.

Officials said the legislation takes a new approach to handling the issue of femicide and domestic violence, which mainly focuses on victims and aggressors.

Minister of Women and Gender Equity Antonia Orellana explained that it seeks to protect children’s well-being and break the cycle of violence, which can see children of aggressors turn into violent adults.

Observers said the law is one of the most comprehensive legal measures in Latin America to support relatives in a region with some of the highest femicide rates in the world.


Shared Traits

Every year, sexually mature male elephants experience a three-month period marked by increased aggression and restlessness.

Known as “musth,” African and Asian elephants during this time produce more testosterone, as well as thick, gooey secretions from ducts on their temples.

Now, a new study has found that the elephant’s woolly mammoth ancestors also went through a similar seasonal change, New Scientist reported.

To determine this, a research team studied the tusk of two woolly mammoths – one male and one female – from different time periods: The male lived about 35,000 years ago and the female about 5,500 years ago.

The team analyzed the testosterone found in the prehistoric remains and compared them with hormone levels found in the tusks of a male African elephant.

During musth, testosterone levels in elephants reached a peak that was 20 times higher than the rest of the year. Likewise, male mammoths exhibited similar fluctuations in testosterone, with levels spiking up to 10 times higher than their baseline. However, the female mammoths displayed minimal variation in their testosterone levels.

Scientists don’t completely understand the relationship between the hormonal changes and changes in the behavior of elephants or their ancestors.

However, aside from hormonal levels, lead author Michael Cherney explained that the method they used to discover the shared trait can also be useful in documenting many aspects of the lives of mammoths and other extinct animals.

“We anticipate being able to identify pregnancies, maturation ages, stress events, and other things that could be used to improve our understanding of mammoth and mastodon palaeobiology,” he said.

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