The World Today for February 26, 2024

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Swimming With Crocodiles


A Zimbabwean court recently gave opposition leader Job Sikhala a suspended sentence of nine months in prison for making falsehoods on social media. The charges stem from his allegation that a police officer killed a child at a bus stop.

Sikhala’s attorney said the southern African country’s top court had found that the law he supposedly violated was unconstitutional, Africa News reported. Amnesty International called the decision a “travesty of justice.”

The ruling came less than a month after a court freed Sikhala after almost 600 days in jail on pretrial detention for charges that include inciting public violence in 2022. As France 24 noted, the leader of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change political party has been arrested dozens of times since he entered politics in 1999 and challenged the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

These developments occurred as ZANU-PF candidates won a two-thirds majority in parliament earlier this month, paving the way for lawmakers to amend Zimbabwean laws to extend President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s term in office – a pattern that has been repeated across Africa as longtime leaders seek to flout term limits, Voice of America reported.

Many hoped Mnangagwa would usher in a new era in the country after taking the helm following the ousting of longtime dictator Robert Mugabe in 2017. Instead, after winning reelection last summer, he appears to be continuing the same strongman tactics that Mugabe leveraged successfully to retain power for 37 years.

Another opposition leader, for example, Nelson Chamisa, recently quit the Citizens Coalition for Change, saying ZANU-PF operatives had infiltrated the party. Speaking to Al Jazeera, he compared working in the party to a “swim in a river with hungry crocodiles.”

“Crocodile” is Mnangagwa’s nickname.

“Mugabe’s removal from power gave way to cautious optimism about a new dawn in the country’s post-independence affairs,” wrote World Politics Review. “But more than five years since he was succeeded in office by Mnangagwa, the hope for a more peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe has all but evaporated.”

Meanwhile, the economy hasn’t been faring much better than the political landscape: It has been growing, but inflation has cut into those gains and poverty remains widespread, according to the World Bank.

The president and his allies, meanwhile, have pledged that the economy will improve significantly this year due to the recent discovery of oil and gas in the country as well as improvements in the mining and tourism industries, Voice of America reported. But economists were skeptical, and Zimbabweans continued to emigrate elsewhere in search of opportunities.


Slow Progress


Talks for a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza Strip will continue in Qatar, according to Egyptian state media, following a framework formulated in France over the weekend between negotiators from Egypt, Qatar, the United States, Israel and Hamas representatives, the Times of Israel reported Sunday.

Over the weekend, delegates agreed on a framework to pause the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Palestinian enclave that has been raging since October, as well as secure the release of the remaining hostages held in Gaza.

Under the framework, Hamas will release around 40 hostages, including women, children, elderly and ill individuals, who were abducted when the armed group attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7.

In return, Israel will secure the release of hundreds of Palestinian terror convicts and the return of Palestinian women and children in northern Gaza – from where hundreds of thousands were evacuated during the fighting. The Israeli government will order a “redeployment” of troops within Gaza – but not a complete withdrawal as Hamas had previously demanded.

Egypt’s Al-Qahera News reported that the upcoming Qatar talks are a “continuation of what was discussed in Paris” and “will be followed by meetings in Cairo.”

While some progress has been made in the negotiations, significant points of contention remain unresolved, including discussions on the rehabilitation of Gaza and the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for the hostages.

Hamas has yet to respond to the outline reportedly formulated in Paris, but observers explained that the draft largely matches its earlier demands for the first phase of a truce.

Meanwhile, negotiators are under pressure to reach an agreement before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which commences around March 10. Israel has indicated that if a deal is not reached soon, it may expand its offensive into Rafah.

Families of hostages are closely monitoring these developments with a mix of hope and anguish, as they await news of their loved ones. Over the weekend, hostage relatives and their supporters launched demonstrations across a number of Israeli cities to demand the return of their family members, the Journal reported separately.

Around 130 hostages remain in the region – not all of them alive.

Amid the ongoing talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stirred controversy this week after he presented a blueprint for postwar Gaza, proposing a model of local Palestinian administration without affiliations to militant groups, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The plan envisions a demilitarized Gaza with a heavy Israeli security presence and control of Gaza’s perimeter, notably differing from the proposals by the US and Arab governments.

Analysts explained Netanyahu’s proposal underscores the growing tensions between Israel and the Biden administration, the latter of which has backed Israel’s war goals in Gaza but warned repeatedly against making changes in its territorial boundaries.

Separately, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Friday a reversal of the previous Trump administration’s position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, declaring them “inconsistent with international law,” the Washington Post added.

The reversal came in response to reports that Israel’s far-right government was planning the further expansion of settlements in the occupied territory.

Some officials noted that Blinken’s announcement reflects growing US discomfort with Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank, amid intensified violence since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks.

Keeping It Low-Key


Russian authorities returned the body of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to his mother over the weekend, more than a week after the Kremlin critic died in an Arctic penal colony in mysterious circumstances, Sky News reported.

Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, confirmed that officials handed over the opposition leader’s remains to his mother Lyudmilla Navalnaya.

She added that authorities had tried to pressure Navalnaya, saying they would bury him in the penal colony if she did not agree to lay him to rest without a public funeral.

The mother refused to negotiate with the investigators because “they do not have the authority to decide how and where she should bury her son,” Yarmysh noted.

Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and major critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, passed away on Feb. 16 with authorities saying he had died of “natural causes,” the Guardian noted.

But Navalny’s family and supporters have blamed the Russian government for his death. Western leaders, including United States President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, have held Putin responsible for the 47-year-old activist’s death.

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, has accused Putin of mocking Christianity by “torturing” Navalny’s corpse and preventing him from getting a proper burial.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the opposition leader’s death.

Details of his funeral remain pending, but observers noted that the pressure to give Navalny a secret burial underscored the government’s efforts to prevent the funerary procession from turning into a public display of support for the opposition leader.

Shortly after his death, many Russians staged makeshift memorials to honor Navalny, prompting authorities to arrest hundreds.

More than 800 people have signed a petition – initiated by a group of Russian Orthodox priests – to allow Navalny’s family to give him a Christian burial.

Saturday marked nine days since the opposition leader’s death, a day when Orthodox Christians hold a memorial service.

In various Russian cities, residents paid tribute to Navalny by leaving flowers at monuments or staging one-person protests.

Human rights groups said authorities detained at least 27 individuals in nine cities.

A Softer Approach


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Saturday lifted certain strict sanctions on junta-led Niger, a move seen as an attempt to convince three countries ruled by the military not to withdraw from the bloc and preserve regional integration, Reuters reported.

Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali jointly decided in January to leave ECOWAS. All three states went through a series of military coups and faced sanctions from the political and economic union.

One of the world’s poorest countries, Niger suffered from the bloc’s sanctions as it had to cut down on public spending and default on over $500 million of debt payments. Referring to humanitarian reasons to justify its decision, ECOWAS removed sanctions targeting border closures, central bank and state assets, and commercial transactions.

The president of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Touray, said a few sanctions were kept but did not specify which ones.

Nonetheless, the move will be seen as an appeasement strategy, the newswire wrote. The bloc, created nearly 50 years ago, has been battered by a political crisis due to coups throughout West Africa. Over the past three years, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali saw their militaries take over power, highlighting ECOWAS’ failure to prevent democratic backsliding.

After the army detained Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum in July last year, the bloc imposed strict measures to pressure the junta to release him.

The crisis deepened with Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali’s withdrawal announcement, which threatens to wreck $150 billion worth of trade and service flows in the region. The three military governments based their decision to exit immediately on the sanctions, which they called illegal.

The sanctions lift comes after ECOWAS chairman Bola Tinubu advised the alliance to rethink its strategy as it tries to hold the breakaway member states in.

Alongside Niger, junta-led Guinea also had certain sanctions lifted. Guinea did not advertise an ambition to leave ECOWAS but did not commit to a democratic transition timetable either.

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali said they wanted to form a confederation based on their new mutual defense pact, the Alliance of Sahel States. The project remains a question mark for now, as the juntas are still combatting Islamist armed groups.



In 2010, researchers uncovered four 1,700-year-old speckled chicken eggs at a Roman pit in Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom, as well as pottery vessels and leather shoes. All four eggs were intact when they were first found.

Unfortunately, three of them broke despite careful efforts to extract them – an accident that also released a very pungent sulfurous smell.

However, one of those eggs still has its contents intact, the Guardian reported.

Last year, archaeologists were discussing how to display the surviving “Aylesbury egg” when material scientists and conservator Dana Goodburn-Brown proposed to scan it.

The recent scans showed that the oval artifact still had liquid inside, which researchers believe to be a mix of yolk and albumen.

The finding caused excitement among scholars, with Goodburn-Brown calling it “one of the coolest and most challenging archaeological finds to investigate and conserve.”

Edward Biddulph of Oxford Archaeology – which oversaw the 2010 excavation – said the egg may be “the oldest egg of its type in the world.”

Its location within a pit used for malting and brewing suggests it may have been placed there as a votive offering, added Biddulph.

Scientists hope that further research can reveal intimate details about the bird that laid it nearly 2,000 years ago.

Now housed at the Natural History Museum in London, curators are facing the delicate task of extracting the egg’s contents without damaging its fragile shell.

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