The World Today for January 16, 2024

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The Coming Storm

ETHIOPIA

When Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993, the latter retained access to a port on the former’s Red Sea coast. But five years later, Ethiopia lost access to this port during a war between the two countries that lasted until 2000. Today, Ethiopian trade flows through Djibouti.

Wanting to change this situation, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hoped to reach a deal with Somaliland, an independent but unrecognized republic within Somalia, to allow more Ethiopian trade to travel through the port of Berbera, reported Agence France-Presse. Berbera would also allow Ethiopia to trade with the Middle East and Europe to the north via the Suez Canal, and east past the Horn of Africa to India and China.

Many Ethiopians feel this arrangement makes perfect sense, the Washington Post noted. Their country, a growing regional power, was never previously landlocked and should not be so today, they reason. In ancient times, for example, Ethiopia was a stop on sea routes that stretched from Rome to India.

In return for its port access, Ethiopia promised to conduct an “in-depth assessment” of Somaliland’s bid for sovereignty, a milestone for Somaliland, explained Al Jazeera. No country recognizes the self-declared breakaway state. Additionally, Somaliland would receive a stake in Ethiopian Airlines, a state-owned company that could help Somaliland make connections worldwide.

Importantly, as part of the agreement, Ethiopia will also occupy a naval base in Somaliland. Forces deployed to that base presumably could come to Somaliland’s aid in the event of a conflict with officials in Mogadishu.

Somaliland was a British colony until 1960. The territory enjoyed five days of independence before voluntarily uniting with Somalia, a former Italian colony. It was a bumpy union that ended with Somaliland breaking away in 1991, after a decade-long liberation struggle against a Soviet-backed military regime. Today, Somaliland is a de facto independent state, with its own currency, a parliament and overseas diplomatic missions.

Reflecting the import of this diplomatic turn – a foreign power brokering a deal with rebels to use a military post on land they control but which others claim – Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud condemned the agreement, signing a new Somalian law to nullify it, added Reuters. It’s not clear if this nullification will do anything, however.

“Somalia belongs to Somalis,” Mohamud told lawmakers recently, according to the New York Times. “We will protect every inch of our sacred land and not tolerate attempts to relinquish any part of it.”

Now, Somalia says it is prepared to go to war to stop Ethiopia from recognizing Somaliland and building a port there, a senior adviser to Somalia’s president said, according to the Guardian.

Declaring the deal void, Mohamud has called on Somalians to “prepare for the defense of our homeland,” while protests have broken out in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, against the agreement.

At the New Arab, Abdolgader Mohamed Ali, an Eritrean journalist, wondered whether the deal would set in motion events that might ultimately lead to conflict in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Abiy has hinted at resorting to violence to regain Ethiopia’s historical access to the Red Sea. Eritrean officials, who have been Abiy’s allies – he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for finalizing a peace deal with Eritrea – are preparing for a potential outbreak of war over the issue.

Djibouti faces economic repercussions from the deal, too, Bloomberg noted.

Ethiopians want access to the sea. The question now is, how far are they willing to go to get it?

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

‘Yes, We Did’

GUATEMALA

Anti-corruption crusader Bernardo Arévalo became Guatemala’s president early Monday after an inauguration that was delayed due to efforts in Congress to stall his swearing-in, Reuters reported.

As the inauguration began, Guatemalans danced in the streets, set off fireworks and waved blue and white national flags as attendees broke into chants of “Yes we did it!”

Arévalo was set to be inaugurated earlier on Sunday. He won a stunning landslide victory in last year’s presidential election, in which he campaigned on an anti-corruption agenda. But afterward, Arévalo has faced the machinations of Guatemala’s most powerful institutions, and some of the most corrupt in the Western Hemisphere, determined to prevent him from taking office.

First, the attorney general launched investigations into the president-elect and his party, Semilla, for alleged fraud, while prosecutors tried to annul the election of Semilla members elected to parliament. Then, on Sunday, the party’s legal status was suspended by a last-minute constitutional court decision.

Finally, lawmakers argued over the seating of the party’s newly elected members and the appointment of a new speaker, delaying the president’s inauguration by nine hours.

In its moves to prevent Arévalo from entering office, the Guatemalan establishment – the so-called “Pact of the Corrupt” which includes politicians, narcotraffickers, former army officials, and business people – has faced the opposition of civil society and world leaders, the Washington Post said.

The country’s indigenous population, supporting Arévalo, led nationwide strikes in October to denounce the congressional and prosecutorial maneuvering. On Saturday night, hundreds of citizens slept in the streets of Guatemala City to ensure the man they had voted for would be sworn in.

Meanwhile, the US government has sanctioned top officials, including canceling the visas of two-thirds of lawmakers for attempting to replace the top electoral court with judges opposed to Arévalo. Others, such as officials from the European Union and Latin American leaders, criticized the delays and obstructions facing the new leaders.

Red Scare

CAMBODIA

A Cambodian court on Monday convicted a group of land rights activists of attempting to incite a Khmer Rouge-style revolution by teaching farmers about class divisions, the Associated Press reported.

Four members of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community were arrested in May last year after giving a workshop to a congregation of farmers in the northeast of the country, where they discussed issues including land rights. They allegedly taught the attendants about class divisions between the rich and the poor.

Nearly half of the participants were arrested, but only the four activists faced charges. Now, the court has given them suspended five-year jail terms.

The arrests occurred in the run-up to the July 2023 general election, won in a landslide by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which international observers described as neither free nor fair. After the election, the CPP’s Hun Manet became prime minister, succeeding his father, Hun Sen, an authoritarian who led the country for almost four decades.

Government spokesperson Gen. Khieu Sopheak said the activists were plotting a “peasant revolution” and incited hatred toward the rich, evoking the ideology of the communist Khmer Rouge, whose 1975-1979 rule was marked by the killing of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians.

The Khmer Rouge had outlawed land ownership.

Hun Sen, once part of the Khmer Rouge regime before defecting in 1977, oversaw his party’s and country’s transition from communism to conservatism and state capitalism. His administration sold or leased resettled land to wealthy investors and members of the political elite.

Farmers were the most impacted by the violent land grabs, which have been called a crime against humanity.

By discussing the topics of land rights and class divisions, the Farmer Community activists politicized what should have been a lecture on best agricultural practices and stepped beyond their prerogatives, Khieu said.

The group’s chairman said he would appeal the verdict and carry on his work with farmers.

A New Wall

GERMANY

Over 10,000 farmers and their tractors blocked traffic in Germany’s capital and main highways on Monday to protest government plans to raise taxes – amid political debates on the rise of the far-right, CNN reported.

The rally was the climax of a week of demonstrations that saw 500 tractors lined up in front of Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, once the stage for German reunification in 1989.

The farmers jeered as Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner said more subsidies were out of the question.

Germany’s economy shrank last year for the first time since the pandemic and was the worst-performing in the developed world, the Associated Press reported. The government has been facing a budget crisis since a constitutional court ruling in November last year ordered it to redo its budgets. One solution has been to remove tax breaks on agricultural diesel.

The move triggered farmers’ anger, which to date has forced the government to make some concessions, but not enough for them to withdraw completely.

The so-called “traffic light” coalition government – made of the “red” Social Democrats, the “yellow” Liberals, and the Greens – has been divided on the issue. Meanwhile, the opposition Christian Democrats and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) have expressed their support for the protesters.

Some tractors displayed posters featuring the AfD’s logo and calling for new elections.

The disruptions caused by the farmers’ protests and rail strikes last week have benefited the AfD in recent elections. The far-right faction reached second place in a country that has long strived to steer away from far-right ideology due to its National Socialist legacy and World War II.

Meanwhile, thousands gathered at the Brandenburg Gate and in the nearby city of Potsdam on Sunday to protest the AfD after a report that members of the party attended a meeting in November to discuss the so-called “remigration” of millions of people – Germans and foreigners alike – with an immigrant background, the Associated Press reported.

The term “Remigration” was named “non-word of the year” by a group of German linguists, who described it as a euphemism for far-right white supremacist policies. The outrage surrounding the meeting led some to demand a ban on the AfD, though others argued such a move would only strengthen the party, allowing it to play victim.

Germany this year faces the European Parliament elections, as well as three state legislative votes.

DISCOVERIES

The Early Air

Scientists have discovered the earliest photosynthetic structures that could shed light on Earth’s primordial life and how the intricate process of photosynthesis evolved, Gizmodo reported.

Photosynthesis is the process in which plants – and some other lifeforms – convert sunlight into chemical energy.

In their paper, biologist Emmanuelle Javaux and her team discovered microfossils of Navifusa majensis, a presumed cyanobacteria, in northern Australia.

Cyanobacteria are a type of microorganism that get energy via oxygenic photosynthesis by converting water and carbon dioxide into glucose and oxygen using sunlight. They are also possibly the ancestors of plant chloroplasts, making their fossils crucial for unraveling the origins of photosynthesis.

The team identified microstructures in N. majensis known as thylakoids, a kind of membrane-bound structure found in plant chloroplasts and some modern cyanobacteria. This led to the conclusion that cyanobacteria with thylakoids split from those without occurred almost two billion years ago.

“This discovery extends the fossil record of such internal membranes by at least 1.2 billion years,” said Javaux. “The arrangement of these membranes in fossil cells allows their unambiguous identification as cyanobacteria actively performing early oxygenic photosynthesis at the time of death 1.75 billion years ago!”

The researchers explained that findings could help them understand how one of Earth’s most fundamental life processes emerged.

More than two billion years ago, Earth underwent the Great Oxidation Event that saw a significant increase in oxygen production. However, it’s unclear when the exact timing of oxygenic photosynthesis evolution in cyanobacteria occurred.

While this discovery adds another piece to the timeline of oxygenic photosynthesis, it does not provide clarity on when this process evolved in relation to the Great Oxidation Event. Further discoveries of fossils with thylakoids may contribute to answering this question.

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