The World Today for June 02, 2023

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Seed to Stem


Farmers in the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau are planting their maize, millet, and sorghum in anticipation of the June rainy season. Among them are the women known as “seed keepers” in the Bijagos archipelago of islands on the country’s Atlantic coast. As the Guardian reported, these women are preserving ancestral seed varieties as well as the culture that has used them for generations to survive.

Empowering women like the seed keepers would be the best way to boost Guinea-Bissau’s economy overall, contended the World Bank. The country has the “highest proportion of natural wealth per capita in West Africa” – it is a major cashew exporter – but most citizens remain impoverished. Improving gender equality and education would create a better environment where more people could share the country’s wealth.

Whether the winners of the June 4 parliamentary elections intend to pursue those goals is another matter, though, said France 24.

In light of a February 2022 coup attempt on the Government Palace when Bissau-Guinean President Umaro Sissoco Embaló, Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam and other top officials were meeting, as Euronews explained, most politicians on the campaign trail are more worried about security and political stability than other concerns.

An explosion of drug-running and drug-fueled crime has not helped matters, either.

But one of the major factors causing instability in the country has been President Embaló’s decision to dissolve the National Assembly last year due to irreconcilable differences between him and legislators, as well as the legislators’ refusal to have their accounts audited.

As the Institute for Security Studies explained, Embaló has now also proposed constitutional changes that would expand his power at the expense of the legislature, a move that would technically require the approval of lawmakers. The proposal is arguably a power grab. Still, Embaló’s defenders say that ambiguities in the country’s constitution about the separation of powers between different branches of government have caused the political instability that has led to numerous coups in Guinea-Bissau since the country achieved independence from Portugal in 1974.

The possibility for tensions to devolve into violence is one reason why the country’s religious leaders have been working hard to keep political leaders calm in the coming days. As the Association for Catholic Information in Africa reported, the leaders pledged to make sure “electoral propaganda, including airtime, interviews, rallies, communications” show “moderation, restraint, and democratic decorum” in order to avoid triggering violence.

From the farm to the halls of power, everyone in the country needs to work hard and thoughtfully to move forward.


Bursting Bubbles


The price of petrol in Nigerian government-run stations tripled this week just days after newly-elected President Bola Tinubu announced he would scrap fuel subsidies, a move that has sparked panic among citizens over inflation, Agence France-Presse reported.

Soon after taking office Monday, Tinubu pledged to expand Nigeria’s economy by at least six percent, stabilize the foreign exchange rate, and combat rising insecurity in the country.

He added the “fuel subsidy is gone,” an announcement that confused many in the West African country. The government of his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, had budgeted for subsidies until the end of June.

But on Wednesday, fuel prices at government-owned gas stations surged from $0.4 to $1.2 per liter, suggesting that the subsidies had already been scrapped. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation also released a statement confirming that prices “will continue to fluctuate to reflect market dynamics.”

The changes prompted concern in Nigeria, where according to the World Bank more than 80 million people out of a population of 213 million live below the poverty line.

There were reports of people rushing to get fuel, and lines for gas stations blocking major roads. Some called the government’s move “madness” and expressed dismay that the changes will impact the price of essential goods.

Nigeria is rich in oil but has inadequate refining capacity. Since the 1970s, Nigerians have had government subsidies for fuel, which have caused a huge drain on revenues, foreign exchange, and contributed to ballooning debt.

Previous attempts to remove subsidies have been met with rage, including in 2012 when the army clashed with protesters demonstrating over fuel costs.

The fuel subsidy issue is only one of the many challenges Tinubu will face as he tries to promote economic growth, analysts told CNBC.

The former governor of Lagos state inherits an economy burdened by soaring debt and inflation levels reaching the highest point in nearly 20 years, surpassing 22 percent.

Tinubu will also have to address the widespread violence in Nigeria, including killings and kidnappings in the northwest, as well as separatist and gang-based attacks in the southeast.

Dating Borders


Brazilian lawmakers approved a contentious bill this week that opponents say threatens the land rights of Indigenous communities and gut environmental protections, NPR reported.

The draft law would include limits to the creation of new Indigenous reserves to lands that were only occupied by native peoples in 1988, which is also the year Brazil’s current constitution was laid down.

Indigenous leaders criticized the bill and blocked a major highway this week in protest, holding signs saying, “We existed before 1988.” Indigenous protesters also clashed with police, with some using bows and arrows against authorities.

Critics fear that the bill could prevent many Brazilian Indigenous tribes from returning to their lands. Many were expelled during the country’s military dictatorship, which ended in 1985, and didn’t return to their territories until years later.

Brazil has 764 Indigenous territories but more than 300 of them still lack official demarcation and are caught in legal limbo. These territories, primarily situated in the Amazon region, play a crucial role in safeguarding against deforestation.

Observers noted that lawmakers in the conservative-dominated lower house of Congress easily passed the bill, adding that the upper house is also expected to approve it.

The vote underscores the power of Brazil’s powerful agricultural lobby and could prove a challenge for leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has vowed to protect Indigenous rights and reverse years of rainforest destruction.

Lula recognized six new Indigenous territories back in April and has created a new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples.

Its minister, Sonia Guajarara, called the new bill a “genocide against Indigenous peoples,” as well as an “attack on the environment.”

SIMply Chaos


A new law requiring all citizens to register their SIM cards under their legal names before July is causing an uproar in the Philippines, while tech analysts worry that the legislation is encouraging identity theft and fraud, Al Jazeera reported.

Last year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr signed into law the SIM Card Registration Act, which would require citizens in the Southeast Asian country to provide identification documents in order to register their SIM cards.

The government initially set the deadline for registration as April 26, but has now extended it to July 26.

Marcos said the law is aimed at combating cybercriminals responsible for fraud, trolling, and hate speech.

But despite pledges to protect mobile phone users’ data, digital rights advocates have raised concerns about the government’s move to relax rules for obtaining IDs and registration in order to meet the sign-up target.

Last month, Secretary Ivan John Uy of the Department of Information and Communications Technology announced that SIM card sellers could assist people trying to register for a small fee.

Critics cautioned that the law’s implementation and the lax registration rules could result in more problems. They warned that the proposal to allow retailers to assist with registration for a fee could lead to potential exploitation and the selling of registered identities.

Some Filipinos have also reported being able to register without proper identification.

Advocates have questioned a provision of the law that empowers law enforcement forces to impersonate any registered SIM user as part of its “authorized activities.” They explained that the vagueness of the provision makes it unclear who is accountable, and makes it susceptible to abuse.


This week, the Russian capital of Moscow experienced its first drone attack on residential areas since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began last year, the Moscow Times reported. The attack damaged a number of buildings in Moscow but there were no casualties. Russia blamed Ukraine for the attack, while Ukraine denied involvement. The attack coincided with Russian drone strikes on Kyiv earlier this week.

Meanwhile, a senior Russian official said British politicians are now legitimate military targets for Moscow, in response to British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s statement that Ukraine has the right to use force inside Russia, Politico added. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused the United Kingdom of leading an undeclared war against Russia by providing military aid to Ukraine, declaring that UK officials facilitating the war could be considered legitimate military targets.

Also this week:

  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has promised nuclear weapons to any nation that joins Russia and Belarus, NBC News wrote. Lukashenko’s comment follows his confirmation of the transfer of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus. The statement added to the escalating tensions between Russia and the West since the invasion of Ukraine. The US State Department criticized the alleged deployment, labeling it irresponsible behavior by Russia.
  • South Africa is planning to change its law to give itself the power to decide whether or not to arrest a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to the BBC. The move comes amidst speculation over South Africa’s invitation to Putin to visit in August, despite an ICC arrest warrant over the Ukraine war. South Africa, a member of the ICC, currently has an obligation to arrest Putin – but the country wants to remain neutral and has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, South Africa is contemplating a change in the venue of an upcoming BRICS summit to resolve the dilemma of whether to enforce the international arrest warrant, Bloomberg wrote.
  • A beluga whale nicknamed Hvaldimir, widely speculated to be a Russian “spy,” entered Swedish waters this week having spent the last four years swimming down the coast of Norway, CNN noted. Hvaldimir gained attention in 2019 when he was seen wearing a harness believed to be for a camera, suggesting possible training by the Russian military. OneWhale, an organization dedicated to the whale’s welfare, praised Sweden for its care and swift action in protecting the animal. Hvaldimir has been observed following boats and playing with people on board. Experts have noted that the harness found on the whale had connections to St. Petersburg, fueling theories of its Russian origin and potential military training by the Russian navy.


Take That, Jupiter

Saturn now reigns supreme after astronomers discovered an additional 62 new moons orbiting the sixth planet from the sun, Mashable reported.

The new tally puts the total number of moons to 145, making Saturn the first known planet in space to have more than 100 satellites.

Researcher Edward Ashton and his team explained in their study that the new findings were possible thanks to a new detection technique that involves stacking photos to capture more details in a single frame.

The novel method helps reveal fainter and smaller cosmic objects. It was previously used in finding moons around Neptune and Uranus.

The researchers explained that they had to closely monitor these celestial bodies to determine whether they were actual moons or just asteroids.

“Tracking these moons makes me recall playing the kid’s game Dot-to-Dot,” Ashton quipped. “But with about 100 different games on the same page and you don’t know which dot belongs to which puzzle.”

The new satellites are remnants of collisions that shattered a bigger moon or moons into pieces, they suggested. Many of them are considered “irregular” because of their tipped, oval-shaped orbits.

Before the new findings, Jupiter claimed the title of most moons in our solar system after scientists came across new satellites around the gas giant back in February – taking the total to 95 moons.

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