The World Today for February 15, 2024

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

NEED TO KNOW

The New Clique

WEST AFRICA

Officials in the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria have a dilemma: On the one hand, they want to ensure prosperity, democracy and security in the region. On the other, they want to keep this powerful regional bloc intact.

So nowadays, they are wondering if they may have pushed too hard in urging the authoritarian leaders of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger – who seized power via recent military coups – to reinstitute democracies in their countries. The three countries have now threatened to pull out of the ECOWAS and create a new Alliance of Sahel States.

Leaders in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger said ECOWAS was criticizing their domestic records of governance and slapping sanctions on their economies while doing little to help the three governments combat al Qaeda and other militant Islamic groups terrorizing their communities, reported Reuters.

More than half of all deaths due to terrorism in Africa occur in Burkina Faso and Mali, according to Global Terrorism Index figures cited in The World. In Niger, added the Washington Post, Islamist militants increased their attacks last year after the military ousted a democratically elected president, kicked French counterterrorism forces out of the country, and cast doubt on the country’s traditional cooperation with the American military.

In Deutsche Welle, analysts discussed how the three countries’ exit would weaken the currently 15-member ECOWAS bloc, which has long been associated with Western, particularly French, influence. The British, French, and American governments supported ECOWAS’s sanctions on the trio and their criticism of the coup leaders’ refusals to cede power, noted Al Jazeera.

ECOWAS states along the Atlantic coast want to work more closely with Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger to prevent the “contagion” of jihadism and political disorder from spreading throughout the Sahel region, argued SOAS University of London professor Nicholas Westcott in the Conversation. Worse relations with the three countries could also cause instability among the Malian and Burkinabe migrants in the ECOWAS members of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal.

Russia, meanwhile, appeared to be filling the resulting power vacuum. As Newsweek reported, the Russian military is now helping Niger develop its combat readiness. The Russian mercenary group, Wagner, is active in Mali, which along with Burkina Faso has given Russian companies mining concessions in exchange for weapons and munitions, too.

“The (three countries’) exit highlights the growing ideological rift between the Western-allied elected governments and military-run countries that are seeking warmer ties with Russia,” Verisk Maplecroft senior political risk analyst Mucahid Durmaz told CNBC.

The weapons are vital to the three countries’ fight against Islamic terrorists. In Burkina Faso, for example, the BBC related how the junta forced conscription upon its citizens in its war on terror.

Captain Ibrahim Traore, leader of the junta there, defends conscription, saying that “individual freedoms (are) not superior to national freedom.” But Human Rights Watch noted that the junta is using conscription to punish critics and the threat of jihadists to crack down on dissent. Meanwhile, that’s a far cry from the values that the bloc has been trying to promote.

Still, the three states’ withdrawal from ECOWAS wasn’t very surprising, wrote World Politics Review. He noted how the bloc had imposed punishing economic sanctions on all three, including sealing their borders, freezing their accounts in West Africa’s regional bank, and banning air connections with them. Niger also saw its electricity supplies cut off by Nigeria. As a result, “it is easy to see why the standoff has now come to a head.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

We Want You

MYANMAR

Myanmar’s junta activated a national conscription law this week, and began arresting those resisting the draft – an attempt by the army to boost its numbers amid desertions and defeats in a fight against ethnic rebel groups that have led some to now question the military’s hold on power three years after its coup, Nikkei Asia reported.

Officials announced that the 2010 People’s Military Service Law was to take effect immediately with an initial batch of 5,000 recruits to be enlisted in April. Even so, Radio Free Asia reported that junta soldiers have already begun mass arrests of young and internally displaced people in the Bago region.

The legislation requires men aged 18 to 35 and women 18 to 27 to serve two years, with the term of service extendable to five years during national emergencies.

The law extends the upper age limit to 45 for men and 37 for women who have technical or professional expertise, while also requiring them to serve for three years, also extendable to five years.

Exemptions include “temporary deferments” for a variety of cases, such as students, people caring for the elderly, and drug addicts undergoing rehabilitation. But these groups have to serve for the required period even if they are above the age limit after deferment. Permanent exemptions include members of religious orders, married women, disabled people and “those who are exempted by the conscription board.”

Refusing to serve could result in penalties such as five-year prison terms and fines.

The law comes as the junta appears more vulnerable since it ousted the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. Since then, the military government has experienced mass protests from civilians and armed conflict from ethnic rebel groups across the country.

In recent months, it has experienced a series of setbacks across northeast, central and western Myanmar, including military defeats, desertions and defections to rebel groups.

Critics condemned some of the new recruitment rules, adding that the new conscription drive underscores the regime’s “growing desperation.”

Many citizens have also expressed anger at the recruitment drive, with some of them suggesting migration, marriage, and even cutting off “a few fingers (rather) than serve in the military.”

No Misery Allowed

LUXEMBOURG

A new law that bans begging in Luxembourg’s capital city to rein in organized criminal gangs is sparking outrage among some residents and human rights advocates, Euronews reported Wednesday.

The controversy began last year when the Luxembourg City Council approved the legislation even as then-Home Affairs Minister Tania Bofferding prevented national police from enforcing the ban.

However, her newly-appointed replacement Leon Gloden formally introduced the law in the capital city in December, which took effect Jan. 15.

The bill bans begging in certain areas of Luxembourg City, such as shopping streets, public squares and car parks, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. People found begging could be ordered to pay a fine between $26 and $268 or face prison if they cannot pay.

Gloden and city authorities said the move is aimed at fighting “aggressive organized begging,” and to “safeguard the wellbeing of local residents and visitors and to protect local business activity.”

They added that the poor and the homeless in the city would still be able to receive support from social services and night shelters.

Some residents have acknowledged that begging has increased in the capital in recent years, but questioned whether a begging ban was the solution. Others criticized it as a “band-aid solution,” noting that the rich European Union country has been experiencing a housing crisis for years.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations said the ban is illegal because it clashes with EU laws.

“The (European Court of Human Rights) has understood that begging allows for providing for basic needs and that persons in vulnerable situations have a right, inherent in human dignity, to meet those basic needs through begging,” according to Fernanda Pérez Soll of Amnesty International Luxembourg.

But even as the legality of the ban remains in limbo, the country’s government is planning a series of reforms to the criminal code.

Officials said the changes will not ban begging on a national level but will provide more flexibility to municipal authorities to fulfil they duties.

Round Two

INDIA

Thousands of Indian farmers clashed with police in the country’s capital New Delhi this week, after protests to demand guaranteed minimum prices for their crops, debt relief and policy reforms from the government spiraled out of control, the New York Times reported.

Earlier this week, farmers from various states marched to New Delhi with their tractors and trucks, prompting authorities to halt the convoys through concrete barricades and stacking shipping containers.

Officials also blocked the social media accounts of some protest leaders and used drones to drop tear gas on protesters.

The demonstrations are a continuation of the mass protests by farmers that gripped the capital in 2020 and 2021. At the time, tens of thousands of farmers launched months-long protests against three bills that would have overhauled the country’s agricultural sector.

At least 600 people died during the violent crackdowns by authorities, but unrest prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to abandon the bills, according to Al Jazeera.

Despite the earlier victory, many farmer unions felt that unresolved issues remained, especially regarding the legal guarantee of minimum support prices (MSP) for staple crops.

The MSP remains a contentious issue in India: Economists have criticized it for fueling food price inflation and distorting agricultural markets.

However, farmers countered that it provides vital stability in an uncertain industry, protecting livelihoods against fluctuating weather patterns and global market prices. Relatively affluent farmers from the Punjab state, who stand to lose the most if MSP is abolished, are at the forefront of these protests.

Protesting farmers are also demanding debt relief and restraints on the privatization of the power industry.

Since the demonstrations coincide with the upcoming election season, analysts said that farmers are more likely to win some concessions from the Modi administration.

DISCOVERIES

Counting Nemo

In the animal kingdom, counting skills usually help creatures in going after larger meals or finding safety in groups.

But a new study on clownfish showed that the colorful marine species is able to “count” to identify other fish, Science Magazine reported.

The vibrant-looking fish, made famous by the Disney movie, “Finding Nemo,” sports a variety of colors and bright white stripes.

And they are extremely territorial: A clownfish would go so far as to attack and bite other clownfish – or different fish for that matter – invading their homes.

Marine ecologist Kina Hayashi suspected that this aggressive behavior might be related to the number of stripes that the fish use to tell each other apart.

In one experiment, Hayashi and her team placed 50 lab-raised common clownfish in individual tanks. They then added other clownfish species with different stripe patterns.

All the fish were protected inside a smell-proof, transparent box.

Despite being unable to physically confront the intruders due to barriers, the resident clownfish exhibited aggressive behaviors such as rushing the other fish or staring.

The researchers then conducted another experiment with 120 clownfish grouped in threes, which were introduced to decoy fish with varying stripe patterns.

The findings revealed a clear preference for certain stripe configurations among the clownfish. Specifically, they aggressively targeted decoys with three stripes, displaying significantly more aggression compared with those with fewer or no stripes.

This suggests that the number and configuration of stripes play a significant role in triggering aggressive behaviors in common clownfish.

While the study sheds light on how the marine creatures tell each other apart, other researchers questioned whether this means the fish are really counting or just noticing odd colors.

In the future, Hayashi hopes to discover whether this counting ability comes from birth or is a learned skill.

Thank you for reading or listening to DailyChatter. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can become one by going to dailychatter.com/subscribe.

Not already a subscriber?

If you would like to receive DailyChatter directly to your inbox each morning, subscribe below with a free two-week trial.

Subscribe today

Support journalism that’s independent, non-partisan, and fair.

If you are a student or faculty with a valid school email, you can sign up for a FREE student subscription or faculty subscription.

Questions? Write to us at [email protected].