The World Today for October 27, 2023

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Bittersweet Chocolate


Half of the dark chocolate in the world comes from cocoa that originates from Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire). As the Hindu explained, the West African country wants to leverage its key location in this massive and lucrative supply chain to transition from exporting raw materials to making the chocolate itself.

This change won’t be easy, however. As a small economy that is dependent on the whims of massive American, European, and Chinese markets, small changes in the chocolate market can cause ripples that disrupt local business markets for years.

The government, for example, recently announced that the so-called farmgate value of chocolate – the price minus transportation and other costs – would increase by 11 percent, reported Bloomberg. Ivorian farmers, meanwhile, were asking for 44 percent increases due to investments in their farms and as global chocolate prices soared.

As Time magazine noted, confectioners in Europe, the world’s largest market for chocolate, temporarily stopped ordering as much cocoa as usual last year as they girded for the economic impact of Russia’s war with Ukraine. The actual impact of the war was relatively mild, however, and as demand renewed cocoa prices went sky-high.

Local farmers are receiving little of the wealth that their cocoa generates after it’s refined into candy and cooking products. And that’s not the only issue.

Deforestation in Ivory Coast accelerated last year following a decline over the previous few years, reported Reuters, citing a World Cocoa Federation report. The report suggested that the country had to do more to comply with new European regulations that prevent the imports of commodities like cocoa that deplete forests and their ecosystems.

Climate change is also a constant struggle for farmers in a tight geographic region where infrastructure and backup systems are few and far between. Excessive rain and other bad weather were expected to reduce cocoa shipments by almost 30 percent this year compared with last year, Africa News wrote.

Prime Minister Robert Beugré Mambé, whom President Alassane Ouattara tapped recently to lead the country, now must tackle these challenges, explained the Africa Report.

Mambé is an old hand in Ivorian politics. He ran the country’s election commission from 2005 to 2010 before allies of former President Laurent Gbagbo dismissed him from his position a few months before the vote, wrote Africa News and Agence France-Presse. After the 2010 election, clashes between the supporters of outgoing Gbagbo and Ouattara, the incoming winner, resulted in 3,000 deaths.

That violence was a testament to the simmering frustration underlying a force for sweetness in the world.


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The Calm After the Storm


India’s embassy in Canada will resume visa services for Canadians, a move that aims to reduce tensions between the two nations amid a dispute over the assassination of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil, Agence France-Presse reported.

Last month, diplomatic relations between India and Canada plunged to new lows after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that Indian intelligence agents were responsible for the deadly shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, was killed by two masked attackers in the parking lot of a Sikh temple near Vancouver in June.

He was an activist and promoted the creation of a separate Sikh state in India known as Khalistan. Nijjar was wanted by Indian authorities on charges of terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder.

Following Trudeau’s statements, the Canadian government expelled an Indian diplomat and urged New Delhi to cooperate in probing Nijjar’s killing.

The Indian government swiftly rejected the accusations as “absurd” and issued a series of counter-measures, including shutting down visa services.

But this week, Indian officials said they would resume consular services after reviewing the security situation at their missions, and in light of recent Canadian measures which they did not specify, the BBC noted.

The diplomatic dispute resulted in Canada withdrawing 41 diplomats from India last week. Meanwhile, India has advised its nationals not to travel to parts of Canada, “given the increase in anti-Indian activities.”

Canada is home to around 770,000 Sikhs, comprising about two percent of the country’s total population.

While some Sikhs in Canada advocate for an independent state, the separatist movement in India has substantially declined since the 1980s, when Indian security forces used lethal means to suppress an insurgency in the Punjab region.

In Name, In Deed


The US cut off financial aid to Gabon after the Biden administration concluded that the August military takeover that ousted incumbent Ali Bongo Ondimba was indeed a coup, the Voice of America reported.

US officials confirmed this week that aid has been paused since last month, but added that “humanitarian, health, and education assistance” to Gabon will continue.

The decision comes nearly two months after army officers led by Gen. Brice Clothaire Oligui Nguema seized power and placed Bongo and his family under house arrest. Nguema was later designated president of a committee aimed at eventually returning power to a civilian government.

Bongo’s ousting came shortly after Gabon’s election commission declared him the winner of the country’s general elections on Aug. 26.

He first took office in 2009 following the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled the oil-rich African nation for more than four decades.

Opponents accused the Bongo family of failing to share the country’s oil and mining wealth with the population. Meanwhile, the military has charged Bongo’s wife, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Valentin with money laundering, forgery and falsifying records.

Authorities say the former first lady manipulated her husband, with military leaders claiming she and one of her sons misused public funds, according to Radio France Internationale.

Despite the suspension of aid, US representatives have met with Gabon’s military officials to discuss a path toward restoring democracy in the country.

Nguema has said he intends to resurrect civilian rule, without specifying a timeline.

Terror By Céline


Residents of a New Zealand town are demanding authorities stop car drivers from loudly blasting Céline Dion songs late at night as a part of a competition popular among the country’s Indigenous people, Insider reported Thursday.

Since November, drivers in Porirua, near the capital Wellington, have been playing the Canadian singer’s tunes – such as “My Heart Will Go On” and “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” – on a loop from about 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. at ear-splitting levels.

Many of the town’s residents have complained of months of sleepless nights.

Porirua Mayor Anita Baker told Agence France-Presse that the noise disruption is part of the “siren battles” trend, which has taken place in the country for years. These battles involve rival groups competing to blast the most powerful and clear sounds from loudspeakers attached to vehicles – including cars and bicycles – to win the title of “siren king.”

Local media reported that the choice of music is due to Dion’s treble and high pitch.

While the blasting music primarily affects the city center, the cacophony reverberates out into the suburbs, leaving locals frustrated and sleep-deprived.

Residents have taken action by launching a petition urging the Porirua City Council to put an end to the night soundtrack.

So far, the petition has garnered nearly 300 signatures.

Baker said she would meet with police to find a resolution.


This week, Slovakia’s newly reelected Prime Minister Robert Fico pledged that the country will cease supplying weapons to Ukraine and instead will provide only humanitarian aid, Politico wrote. He expressed the view that an immediate cessation of military operations is the best solution for Ukraine, and called on the European Union to transition from being an arms supplier to a peacemaker. Fico was elected in September and has formed a coalition government with the social-democratic Hlas party. His decision to halt arms deliveries to Ukraine and oppose further European sanctions against Russia has raised concerns over the bloc’s unity in supporting Kyiv’s fight.

Also this week:

  • Ukraine temporarily suspended the use of its Black Sea grain export corridor due to potential threats from Russian warplanes and sea mines, according to Reuters. Ukrainian officials have cited increased Russian air force activity in the area as the reason for the suspension. The corridor, established to circumvent a de facto blockade in the Black Sea, had been used for grain and other cargo shipments. This decision comes as Ukraine seeks to boost seaborne exports independently from Russia, which withdrew earlier this year from a United Nations-brokered agreement that had allowed some food exports to flow despite the war.
  • Sweden moved a step closer to joining NATO after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent so-called accession protocols to parliament for approval, CNN reported. Sweden and Finland sought NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, but Turkey had blocked Sweden’s membership until recently. Sweden tightened its anti-terror laws and pledged closer cooperation with Turkey on security concerns. While this move represents progress, Hungary has also not voted to approve Sweden’s NATO membership, indicating that the process may still take time.
  • Russia has reportedly released up to 100,000 prison inmates to fight in Ukraine, according to government data and human rights groups, which is a significantly larger number than previously known, the Washington Post noted. The Russian prison population has dropped from an estimated 420,000 before the invasion of Ukraine to about 266,000. These individuals are said to have been sent to the front lines, where they are being used to bolster the Russian military’s depleted ranks. This practice of recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine started with the mercenary Wagner Group, and despite some internal disputes, the Russian Defense Ministry has continued this strategy.


Ancient Blasts

Ancient Chinese soldiers packed a lot of firepower when they were guarding the Great Wall of China, according to Newsweek.

Archaeologists recently discovered a cache of 59 “stone grenades” in the ruins of a building along a section of the monument known as the Badaling Wall, which lies around 50 miles northwest of Beijing.

Researchers explained that explosives were found in what they believe to be a weapons warehouse.

“It is the first time that such a weapon storehouse has been found along the Great Wall,” Shang Heng, one of the archaeologists who was involved in the discovery, told Xinhua.

Even so, stone grenades are not a rare occurrence along the 13,170-mile-long Great Wall: In the past, archaeological teams have uncovered hundreds of them similar to those found in the Badaling section.

These ancient explosives were filled with gunpowder and used by soldiers to fend off nomadic invaders.

“After filling, they can be sealed and thrown out, which can not only hit the enemy but also cause an explosion to defeat the enemy,” Shang said.

Shang and his colleagues also found fire pits, cooking utensils and shovels, which can unveil intimate details about the guards’ activities back then and the wall’s defensive structures.

The Great Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an extensive defensive fortification system stretching across northern China and southern Mongolia.

It comprises multiple walls built over two millennia to protect against nomadic groups. Its construction began in the seventh century BCE, but the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, connected these walls in the third century BCE.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the most extensive and well-preserved sections – such as the Badaling wall – were built.

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