The World Today for March 04, 2024

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NEED TO KNOW

Location, Location

DJIBOUTI

An Iranian ship named the Behshad was docked off Djibouti near a Chinese military base for weeks, allegedly transmitting commercial shipping information to the Houthis, a Yemeni militant group that has been attacking ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Behshad received at least four shipments of supplies, according to TradeWinds, a news outlet that covers global shipping.

Despite the small Horn of Africa nation’s tolerance of the Behshad, however, Djibouti still isn’t immune to the chaos that the Houthis are sowing to assert their influence in the region, especially as the West continues to support Israel’s war against Hamas, another Iran-backed group, in the Gaza Strip, regardless of the toll on civilians.

The Iranian-supported Houthis, for example, have cut undersea telecommunications cables that run between Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, added i24 News, citing Israeli media reports. These lines connected Europe, Africa, and India. Ships struck by Houthi missiles have leaked their toxic cargoes into the region’s water, too, added Agence France-Press.

American and British forces have conducted strikes to dissuade the Houthis from continuing their piracy and aggression, but those efforts have yet to yield success. Djibouti, a Muslim-majority nation, appears to have allied with China to help reduce its risk exposure to these problems, however.

As the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat explained, Chinese ships appear to have immunity from Houthi attacks, leading to a boom at Djibouti’s ports as more shippers hire Chinese carriers to move their products through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, as he navigates these developments at sea, Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh has become increasingly concerned about events transpiring in Ethiopia, his country’s neighbor to the west and south.

Currently, Ethiopian trade passing through Djibouti and vice versa comprises 75 percent of the latter country’s gross domestic product. But, as World Politics Review wrote, Ethiopian leaders are moving ahead with plans to build a new port in Somaliland, an unrecognized independent state that is technically part of Somalia.

Ethiopia lost its access to the sea when nearby Eritrea won its independence in 1993. Five years later, after a war with Eritrea ended, Ethiopia moved its export routes to Djibouti. Now, however, Ethiopia plans to gain access to the port of Berbera in Somaliland as well as a 13-mile stretch of coastline where Ethiopia – an otherwise landlocked country – could establish a naval base. Somalian officials have panned the idea, Al Jazeera reported, saying Ethiopia has no right to sign a deal with Somaliland. Somali leaders are warning Ethiopia to not move forward, saying it risks regional harm, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told Al Jazeera.

In what looks like a policy to engage – rather than let events transpire without attempting to influence them – Guelleh has tried to play a mediating role between Ethiopia and Somalia to help them hash out their disagreement.

As world leaders tread carefully in this minefield, Djibouti worries about its lost income from the port deal being realized. The country of about one million has few natural resources, an authoritarian leadership and a GDP, of $3 billion annually, equivalent to China’s output every two hours, wrote Brookings.

But it does have one key resource that the American and the Chinese militaries, as well as the French, Japanese, Italians, Spanish, Russian, Indians, and Saudi Arabian all covet, and as a result, inspired another great power rivalry: its strategic location that comes with a deep-water port complex.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Unfulfilling Rain

ISRAEL/ GAZA

The United States joined five other countries in airdropping aid packages onto Gaza this weekend, a move described as “inefficient”, that came after more than 100 Palestinians died while trying to receive humanitarian aid in the enclave’s capital, the New York Times reported.

In a joint operation with Jordan, the US Army airdropped 38,000 halal meals on Saturday onto the besieged territory. Similar campaigns carried out by Egypt, France, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar over the past week saw other supplies airdropped, including diapers, medicine, and menstrual hygiene products.

US President Joe Biden announced the move on Friday, one day after an aid delivery in Gaza City turned deadly. Hundreds of Palestinians converged around the humanitarian convoy, one of the rare ones let into the enclave, leading to a chaotic scene. At least 115 people were killed, and 750 were wounded in the incident. Gazan authorities and eyewitnesses blamed it on Israeli gunfire.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris later said people in Gaza were “starving” and urged Israel to “significantly increase the flow of aid” there, the BBC reported. She said “there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks”, which would “get the (Israeli) hostages out” .

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) argued the death toll was due to a stampede. They released drone footage of the scene, showing hundreds of people rushing toward the convoy. Spokesperson Nir Dinar acknowledged an IDF troop had shot people approaching them in a threatening manner while denying involvement in the “mass casualty,” the Washington Post reported. Nonetheless, the head of a Gaza City hospital said 80 percent of the wounded had been struck by gunfire.

Thursday’s tragedy has highlighted the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where 30,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the war in October, according to the Gazan Health Ministry, a great majority being women and children. More than half a million Gazans are now facing “famine conditions,” the International Rescue Committee said.

Experts have criticized the airdropping campaigns, saying they were too expensive yet too inefficient, as they alone cannot meet the needs of the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped inside the Gaza Strip. One called them “theater” and said they could further fuel chaos.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian affairs – which is set to receive funding again from the European Union after a month-long blockade from Western powers – said airdropping should only be a “last-resort” solution.

Humanitarian organizations, by and large, have demanded that Israel reopen border crossings, especially in the north of Gaza, and allow aid to enter the enclave.

At the same time, a US source told the Associated Press that Israel endorsed a proposed ceasefire and hostage release deal, with Hamas having yet to join the agreement. Talks resumed in Egypt on Sunday with the hope of pausing the fighting before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts in mid-March.

Gangland

HAITI

Haiti’s government called a 72-hour curfew Sunday evening, as heavy fighting between criminal gangs and police took over the capital Port-au-Prince over the weekend which also saw thousands of prisoners being broken out of jail, Reuters reported.

Up to 4,000 prisoners, including high-profile criminals, may have escaped the National Penitentiary in the capital and a smaller prison in Croix des Bouquets police said, after gangs stormed the facilities, the BBC reported.

Police unions had called for assistance to help officers maintain control of the facilities that gangs attacked on Saturday, or else “no one will be spared in the capital” according to CNN.

The prison attacks came after heavy gunfire broke out in Port-au-Prince in recent days, killing at least 12 people, following calls by gang leader Jimmy Cherizier to overthrow Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Cherizier – a former police officer – called on various gang groups to unite and oust Henry, while urging police to arrest the prime minister.

Authorities told CNN that criminal gangs have attacked a number of police stations across the city, setting fire to some of the stations.

The Haitian government has not commented on the unrest, which follows public frustration over Henry’s inability to curb violence and his failure to step down last month.

Henry came to office shortly after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 and pledged to step down by early February 2024. But he later said that security must be re-established in the Caribbean nation to ensure free and fair parliamentary and presidential polls.

The recent clashes took place as Henry was visiting Kenya to finalize the details of a UN-sponsored mission to help Haiti’s security situation.

On Friday, the two countries signed a pact that will enable Kenya to deploy 1,000 police officers to the island, Bloomberg added.

Haiti has been grappling with various crises and gang-related violence in recent years, particularly in Port-au-Prince, where warring gangs control key areas and disrupt essential supply routes.

The violence has resulted in more than 300,000 people being displaced from their homes due to rampant killings, kidnappings, arson and rape.

In January alone, approximately 1,100 individuals were killed, injured, or abducted, marking the most violent month in two years, according to the United Nations.

‘I Know Now Why You Cry …’

RUSSIA

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was laid to rest in Moscow over the weekend, as thousands of people attended the funeral of the prominent Kremlin critic despite a heavy police presence and fears of a potential crackdown by authorities, NBC News reported.

Navalny’s body was first delivered to a church in southern Moscow for a brief funeral and then to a nearby cemetery. Many attendees carried flowers, placards and candles, as well as chanted the opposition leader’s name.

Others uttered riskier words of dissent, such as “Russia without Putin” and condemning President Vladimir Putin for Navalny’s death. Some also denounced the ongoing war in Ukraine, which Navalny also opposed.

The theme music of the 1991 movie “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” played in the background as pallbearers lowered the casket carrying the Kremlin critic. The choice of music was a nod to his admiration for the film’s themes of resistance against powerful opponents.

Meanwhile, the procession took place with a considerable police presence. Opposition media suggested at least two people were reportedly detained during the event.

The funeral came two weeks after Navalny died on Feb. 16 while serving a prison sentence at an Arctic penal colony. The cause of his death is still unclear, while the Kremlin has denied any involvement.

Shortly after his death, supporters and mourners held makeshift memorials in honor of the opposition leader, prompting authorities to arrest more than 400 people across the country.

International attention was drawn to the event, with diplomats, including the US ambassador to Russia, in attendance.

Observers noted that Navalny’s death and the government’s efforts to prevent a public funeral showed “an absolute panic on Putin’s side.”

But despite the show of resistance, Putin is expected to win by a landslide in Russia’s upcoming presidential elections in mid-March.

First elected in 2000, Putin has already been in power longer than any predecessor since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

DISCOVERIES

Vitamin or Ritalin?

Many modern humans have trouble paying attention, either in childhood or as adults.

Turns out, ancient humans did, too.

In fact, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) actually proved useful for our ancestors and that’s why it passed through natural selection to exist to this day, a group of scientists has argued.

In their study, the researchers found that such traits may have given early hunter-gatherers a greater tendency to explore while foraging, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

They tested this theory through an online berry-picking game. Participants had to collect as many berries as possible within eight minutes by foraging bushes and deciding either to keep foraging the same bush or move on to another one – all for the maximal prize of $3.

The researchers did not diagnose the 457 participants but gave them a self-diagnosis test where respondents had to tell how often they would experience a situation commonly linked with ADHD. Nearly half of the participants screened positive.

ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder, is usually spotted in childhood and can last into adulthood. According to the study, 11 percent of children and 4 percent of adults have ADHD, which means they would be seen struggling to pay attention, fidgeting, or making impulsive decisions.

It’s this very impulsivity that may have prompted early hunter-gatherers to leave depleted bushes and look for more fruit elsewhere sooner than their neurotypical peers, New Scientist wrote. People identifying with ADHD traits in the research were quicker to move on to other bushes and yielded more berries on average.

Though a first step toward finding out where ADHD came from and its advantages for our ancestors, the study had a few limits. For one thing, it’s unlikely bushes were as plentiful as in the game, so scarcity would have been a bigger issue.

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