The World Today for November 02, 2023

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Books and Bombs


A locally filmed, 10-part television series about Mogadishu high school students called “Arday” hit the Somali airwaves earlier this year, the Washington Post reported. A book fair, newly opened theaters, and art exhibitions have also cultivated a new Somali culture of arts and entertainment.

This art scene is flourishing in Mogadishu, the capital of war-torn Somalia, in defiance of Islamist militants roaming freely throughout the countryside, occasionally making it to town to set off bombs.

As the Council on Foreign Relations timeline showed, al-Shabab has terrorized Somalia since 2004, seizing Mogadishu in 2006. Ethiopia, Kenya, the US, the United Nations and others became embroiled in the conflict as Somalia collapsed into civil war. In 2011, African Union forces finally ousted al-Shabab from the city – but al-Shabab insurgents are still active in more remote areas, controlling vast areas of the country.

For example, an al-Shabab suicide bomber drove an armored car carrying a bomb into a police post outside Mogadishu on Oct. 21, killing six security officers and injuring seven others, reported Voice of America. The attack came less than a week after another al-Shabab suicide bomber killed a prominent Somali television journalist.

The next day, the US offered $5 million to anyone who could provide information on the whereabouts of al-Shabab’s deputy leader, Abukar Ali Adan.

Whether books or bombs will prevail in Somalia is an open question. As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explained, al-Shabab’s robustness has made it difficult for Somalia to move on as a nation. Without moving on, however, Somali officials can’t properly rebuild their economy to generate jobs that would keep Somali youth from becoming extremists.

Famine is a constant threat in Somalia. The country has been highly dependent on international aid for so long that corrupt or inefficient economies have developed around it, the New Humanitarian noted. The pandemic and climate change-driven shocks have seriously undercut the economy, too, added Africa News. Drought has become a dire problem – again – threatening food stocks and livelihoods.

The government’s earnest peace efforts, meanwhile, have fizzled. The government in Mogadishu, for instance, offered all al-Shabab an amnesty in 2014. The militants rejected the offer, preferring to fight and die rather than accept anything but theocracy.

Now, after Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud assumed office last year after pledging all-out war against al-Shabab, the Somali army is taking the fight to the group in the field, wrote Garowe Online, an independent news site located in the Somali region of Puntland. The army recently claimed to have killed 3,000 insurgents in central Somalia.

President Mohamud is just one of many Somalis who are ready to move on. Unfortunately, that’s difficult to do.


To the People


A law revoking a major mining contract with a Canadian mining company passed the first of two votes in Panama’s National Assembly Wednesday, a bill that would render a proposed referendum on the controversial contract unnecessary, Bloomberg reported.

A legislative committee this week had approved putting forward a referendum for lawmakers to consider, following weeks-long mass protests across the country over the deal that critics say threatens the environment, Bloomberg previously reported.

But a separate article revoking the contract passed its first hurdle with the 71-member legislature and faces its second vote Thursday.

Thousands of Panamanians had protested against a long-term copper mining concession granted to a subsidiary of the Canada-based firm, First Quantum Minerals Ltd.

The contract has significant economic implications for the Central American nation because Panama Mining, the local subsidiary, employs more than 9,000 people. In 2021, its operations accounted for 4.8 percent of Panama’s gross domestic product.

The new deal guarantees a minimum annual payment of $375 million to Panama, a tenfold increase over the previous agreement. It also extends Panama Mining’s concession over 32,000 acres for 20 years, with an option for an additional 20 years.

But the deal has stoked nationalist anger and environmental objections, with opponents warning that giving the company control over its water usage is unwise, especially during a period of drought that has impacted Panama Canal traffic.

In a bid to quell the demonstrations, President Laurentino Cortizo’s administration proposed the draft law to schedule a referendum for December, but the country’s electoral authority said it couldn’t be held before next May’s presidential election, the Associated Press added.

The Hardest Word


King Charles III acknowledged the atrocities committed by British colonial authorities against Kenyans during their fight for independence in the 1950s, but stopped short of issuing a full apology, CNN reported.

The British monarch’s statements came during a four-day state visit to Kenya, which was marked by mounting calls for a formal apology and reparations to the former British colony.

During a banquet Tuesday, the king issued a statement about the “abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence committed against Kenyans” in their struggle for statehood, adding, “there can be no excuse.”

He said that by addressing the history and relationship between the two nations, “we can, perhaps, demonstrate the strength of our friendship today.”

The king’s comments come as Kenya prepares celebrations to honor its 60th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom in December.

Kenya gained independence in 1963, a little more than a decade after Mau Mau freedom fighters – originating from the country’s largest ethnic Kikuyu tribe – rebelled against the British.

Colonial authorities declared a “state of emergency” during the 1952-1960 uprising that saw thousands of Kenyans detained and subjected to torture, including castration and sexual assault.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC) estimated that around 100,000 people were tortured, maimed or killed during the eight-year period. Before the king’s visit, the commission urged the monarch to issue “an unconditional and unequivocal public apology” during his trip.

However, observers said it was not in his power to give an apology because it falls under the jurisdiction of the UK government rather than individual members of the royal family.

Even so, Kenyan President William Ruto welcomed the monarch’s “exemplary courage and readiness” to recognize “uncomfortable truths.” Meanwhile, members of the Mau Mau community said they will keep fighting for reparations.

The king’s trip is the latest from the past few years in which British and other European royals are confronted with the legacy of their countries’ imperial pasts and ties to slavery in the former colonies.

The king and queen of the Netherlands visited the Slave Lodge in Cape Town, South Africa, last month where Dutch colonists once enslaved thousands of Africans and Asians. They were confronted by the leaders of two Indigenous groups that were displaced from the locale 350 years ago by Dutch colonists, and who are asking for an apology and reparations, the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, Caribbean nations such as Grenada and Barbados are preparing formal letters demanding that the British royal family, Lloyd’s of London, the Church of England and other entities apologize and make reparations for their past roles in the slave trade, the Guardian reported.

The Over-Step


Australia’s top court ruled Wednesday that the government cannot strip citizenship from a man convicted of terrorism, a verdict that dealt another blow to a law allowing government ministers to revoke dual nationals of their Australian citizenship because of extremism-related crimes, the Associated Press reported.

The case centers on Algerian-born cleric Abdul Benbrika, who is currently in prison but is expected to be released in the next few weeks.

Benbrika was convicted in 2008 of three terrorism charges related to a plot to cause mass casualties at a public event in Melbourne. No attack took place, however.

In 2020, Benbrika became the first person to lose his citizenship under a clause in the law relating to terrorism-related offenses: It allows for those who are dual nationals and serve more than three years in prison to be stripped of their citizenship by the home affairs minister.

But the High Court found that the legislation was unconstitutional. The majority of judges said the home affairs minister was effectively exercising a judicial function by punishing criminal guilt.

In its decision, the court also prevented the government from deporting Benbrika from the country following his release.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his cabinet will examine the ruling in regard to the law passed nearly a decade ago by a previous government.

Meanwhile, legal analysts said the verdict was not surprising because the legislation was “a fundamental breach of the separation of powers in Australia.”

Last year, the High Court struck down another clause in the law that allowed a dual national imprisoned in Syria to lose their citizenship based on suspicion of involvement with Islamic State.


New Faces

Brazil’s Amazon region is experiencing a severe drought that has drawn water levels down to unprecedented lows.

Still, the drought has also unveiled a myriad of stone carvings of human faces and other figures dating back more than a thousand years, the Guardian reported.

Archaeologists found the petroglyphs on the shores of the Rio Negro River, near the Ponto das Lajes– or Place of Slabs – archaeological site, and which include images of human faces, animals and other natural forms. The researchers explained that some rocks displayed grooves that suggest the site was also used to produce stone tools.

So far, they have identified 25 groups of carvings on one rock, which they believe to have been used as a whetstone to sharpen tools.

The archeological team suggested the petroglyphs were created between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago, but said that they need to further study the carvings to confirm their age.

However, their discovery is not entirely new.

The carvings were previously sighted during a severe drought in 2010 that saw the Rio Negro’s levels drop to nearly 45 feet – then an all-time low.

Currently, the river’s levels have receded below 42 feet as a result of an unusually dry season which scientists attribute to the El Niño weather pattern and warming in the North Atlantic linked to climate change.

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