The World Today for March 11, 2024

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The Crows Gather


Rwanda’s incursion into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has sparked violence, massive displacement and concerns about the possibility of a new war in one of the poorest, most unstable regions in the world.

Irredentist Rwandan leaders claim that colonial mapmakers cleaved off sections of their country and mistakenly gave these territories to the DRC, wrote African Arguments. These claims are partly responsible for the First Congo War of 1996-1998 that kicked off years of suffering and more alterations to the region.

Also responsible was the DRC’s bloody history of colonialism and dictatorship, as University of Johannesburg visual art lecturer Ruth Sacks described in the Conversation.

Now Rwanda is supporting M23 rebels whom Western leaders claim would grant Rwanda access to the DRC’s vast mineral resources in the lawless eastern regions of the country, reported Agence France-Presse. The DRC possesses an estimated $24 trillion of raw minerals like cobalt and lithium, which are crucial for electric batteries and other green energy technologies, added Crux. Rwanda has a history of economic-based disputes with another neighbor, Burundi, noted World Politics Review.

A coalition of forces from the DRC, as well as Burundi, Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania, has been fighting the M23 rebels in the eastern DRC, Xinhua explained. The DRC has also allegedly hired American, Romanian, and other mercenaries to fight its battles against the M23 rebels and other threats, according to the New Times, a Rwandan news outlet.

The rebels most recently have been vying for control of Goma, a provincial capital, near the Rwandan border. Thousands have fled the region as the fighting has grown more intense and the number of casualties has risen in what the Red Cross called an “extremely worrying” and “unprecedented” situation.

“We’re scared of dying of hunger,” Sandrine, a 32-year-old mother of eight, told the Norwegian Refugee Council after she fled her village near Sake, a town around 15 miles from Goma. “We also hear gunfire every day. We don’t have anything to eat and the food in the markets is too expensive to buy. We have nowhere to sleep – we had to leave everything behind, including our mattresses.”

The suffering has also angered many Congolese who feel as if their country is under attack. In the capital of Kinshasa, demonstrators have taken to the streets, burning flags and protesting outside embassies, to criticize the West for not deterring Rwanda from stirring up a rebellion, the BBC wrote. They say that Rwanda has been the West’s darling, allowing the US and Europe to ignore its actions.

Meanwhile, Western critics have also blasted major American and European governments and corporations for not ensuring that high-tech and other supply chains respect the human rights of workers in the DRC and elsewhere, said Vogue magazine.

But, it added, everyone – the Russians, the Chinese, Europe and the US – is happy to look away from the misery, as long as the mining goes on.


Confounding Language


Irish voters overwhelmingly rejected two referendums aimed at changing the country’s constitution in areas relating to women and family, votes that observers called embarrassing defeats for the government, the Financial Times reported over the weekend.

On Friday, two referendums had proposed recognizing families based on “durable relationships” – not just marriage – and removing references to a woman’s “life within the home” by including other family members among caregivers.

But voters rejected the government-backed proposals, with roughly 68 percent voting against the new definition of family, while nearly 74 percent voted “no” in the caregiver referendum.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that voters had delivered “two wallops” to the government, adding that many people had “got this wrong and I’m certainly one of them.”

Observers explained that the amendments, if passed, would mark another example of Ireland moving to shed its conservative past: The country legalized divorce in 1995, same-sex marriage in 2015, and repealed a ban on abortion in 2018, Euronews noted.

Friday’s referendums had the support of the ruling coalition and were aimed at removing “some very old-fashioned, very sexist language” from the 1937 constitution, according to Varadkar.

But critics and opposition parties complained that the referendums’ wording was confusing.

The opposition Sinn Fein party said the wording would lead to legal disputes and most people “do not know what the meaning of a durable relationship is.”

Meanwhile, disability rights’ advocates noted that the focus on caregiving portrays disabled individuals as burdens, rather than recognizing them as individuals entitled to rights that should be ensured by the state.

No One Is Safe


Gunmen kidnapped nearly 300 students from a school in northwestern Nigeria, the latest abduction in the West African county and which underscores its precarious security situation, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities and parents said the kidnapping took place Thursday in the remote town of Kuriga, Kaduna state, known for violent killings, lawlessness and abductions.

Nigerian security forces have launched search operations, but the vast wooded expanses of the region pose challenges to rescue efforts, observers said.

The Kuriga abduction follows a series of recent kidnappings across the country’s north: Just days earlier, 15 children were abducted from a school in Sokoto state, while 200 others, primarily women and children displaced by conflict, were kidnapped in Borno state.

Last month, and armed gang invaded a palace in the north-central Nigerian state of Kwara, killing a traditional monarch and abducting two people, including the king’s wife, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the abductions, officials suspect Islamic extremists waging insurgencies in the northwest kidnapped the children. Meanwhile, locals blame herders in conflict with settled communities for the abductions.

In recent years, Nigeria’s northern regions have been plagued by kidnappings perpetrated by armed groups – locally known as “bandits” – and Islamic insurgents fighting against government forces.

More than 1,400 students have been abducted in similar incidents over the past decade. The most infamous incident was the 2014 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the Borno town of Chibok by the Islamic State-affiliate Boko Haram. Nearly 100 of those girls are still being held captive.

Beyond schools, kidnappings have become pervasive across Nigeria, with more than 3,500 abductions reported in the past year alone. The porous borders facilitate the smuggling of arms used in abductions, while armed gangs – often collaborating with insurgents – thrive in ungoverned forests.

Despite legislative efforts to penalize ransom payments, families often succumb to kidnappers’ demands.

Last year, newly-elected President Bola Tinubu pledged to address the security situation and stop the kidnappings.

Even so, analysts said the Nigerian military has become weakened by the years-long Islamist insurgency in the northeast, amid ongoing air raids and special military operations in the region.



Samoa’s parliament passed new electoral amendments over the weekend that will give citizens the right to register to vote from overseas, a move that opposition lawmakers warn could see the Pacific island nation being governed by “outsiders,” Radio New Zealand reported.

The new Electoral Amendment Bill 2024 will permit members of Samoa’s diaspora to vote in general elections.

The country’s Electoral Commissioner Tuiafelolo John Stanley said individuals registered to vote had to be citizens who have resided in Samoa, as well as provide documentation including birth certificates and that they are Samoan citizens.

Overseas voters must also finalize their registration by completing a biometric test in Samoa, he added.

The amendments were pushed by the ruling Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party.

But opposition politicians raised concern that the island nation’s general elections will be influenced by its very large diaspora living in Australia, New Zealand and other regions of Oceania, which outnumber the estimated 207,000 people on Samoa.

The editorial board in the local paper Samoa Observer explained that there was confusion and ambiguity regarding the registration process, including questions about whether the law applies only to Samoans with a Samoan passport, or includes those born overseas with Samoan heritage.

However, Tuiafelo and other officials dismissed those concerns, saying that the bill’s goal is to make it convenient for Samoan citizens living abroad.


Seeping In

Microplastics are ubiquitous in our daily lives: They can be found everywhere, including in cosmetics, table salt, seafood and recently, human arteries.

Now, scientists found that those microscopic plastic particles have seeped all the way down into sediment layers dating back to the 18th century, Futurism reported.

European researchers recently studied sediments in three Latvian lakes to test if the presence of microplastics in geological layers could help determine the start of the Anthropocene Epoch.

The Anthropocene Epoch is a proposed term used to describe a recent geological period in Earth’s history when human activity began to greatly affect the planet’s climate and environment, according to National Geographic.

Many researchers proposed that the epoch began in 1950 and some have suggested using microplastics in rock layers as a chronological marker for the Anthropocene.

But the new analysis showed that microplastics are not a reliable indicator: The research team found that the particles had entered deep into the layers, including one from 1733.

“We conclude that interpretation of microplastics distribution in the studied sediment profiles is ambiguous and does not strictly indicate the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch,” they wrote.

The findings further show a worrying trend about the proliferation of microplastics, while also underscoring one of the biggest challenges humanity will face in removing them from the environment.

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