The World Today for March 26, 2024

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Iron Junta

GUINEA

The leader of the junta that runs Guinea, Gen. Mamadi Doumbouya, recently sacked the head of the state electricity company and his deputies.

Doumbouya, who read the announcement on national television, made the decision after power cuts triggered deadly protests in the West African country, reported Bloomberg. An eight-year old and 14-year-old died in the protests, added Agence France-Presse, noting that, while Guinea is blessed with mineral and natural resources, it suffers from energy shortages.

Doumbouya’s dictatorial rule hasn’t helped, either.

Last month, security officers killed two other young people during demonstrations against the government, Al Jazeera wrote. The demonstrations were part of an open-ended general strike that kicked off a week after the junta dissolved the transitional government running the country since July 2022. The government was put in place nine months after Doumbouya had led a coup overthrowing President Alpha Condé, who had clung to power in spite of term limits.

People took to the streets to call for the release of human rights activists, government action to reduce food prices, and the ceasing of media censorship.

The junta never gave a reason for dissolving the government. Doumbouya had appointed the country’s previous former prime minister, Bernard Goumou, noted the BBC. It’s possible that the general could no longer tolerate power struggles within the government, suggested Africa Report. Justice Minister Alphonse Charles Wright, for instance, was calling for prosecutions against corrupt public officials, according to Agence de Presse Africaine.

The new prime minister whom Doumbouya appointed, Ahmadou Oury Bah, has a reputation as a skillful executive who can reconcile the county’s disparate factions, wrote World Politics Review. He’s appointed a diverse cabinet that includes junta leaders, seven women, and a human rights activist to oversee elections.

The cabinet also includes a new mining minister, Bouna Sylla, reported Reuters. Sylla will be charged with making sure the junta and the country in general receive the revenues they need to improve Guinea’s economy. The recent protests have impacted mining, a crucial source of foreign capital in the country, added Mining Magazine.

Guinea has important opportunities that Doumbouya could help the country to exploit.

Australian-British mining giant Rio Tinto, for example, recently announced that the company’s board had approved a $20 billion project that will include the biggest iron ore mine in the world in Simandou, southern Guinea, as well as a nearly 350-mile-long rail line and a new port, reported the Financial Times. Seven other companies, including five Chinese firms, are partners in the massive mine project.

Chinese demand for metals from the mine for infrastructure, especially electric vehicles and charging stations, will likely remain strong for years.

Unfortunately, added the Financial Times, that likely won’t bring ordinary Guineans more liberty or prosperity.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Defying the Odds

SENEGAL

An anti-establishment candidate is predicted to win Senegal’s long-awaited presidential election on Monday, signaling potential radical change in one of coup-prone West Africa’s more stable democracies, the Guardian reported.

Early returns showed opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye far ahead of other candidates in Sunday’s vote. While other candidates conceded defeat, Amadou Ba of the ruling party has already asked for a runoff vote.

In Senegal’s two-round system, a runoff is held if no candidate wins an absolute majority in the initial race.

Final results are expected later this week.

Faye’s victory would imply radical change for Senegal, said analysts. He has promised voters he would address systemic issues facing the country, including its relationship with its former colonial power, France.

His pledges include abandoning the CFA Franc, a single currency used in eight West African countries. Critics have described the CFA Franc, which is pegged to the euro, as a legacy of French colonialism – CFA initially was an acronym for French Colonies in Africa, but now means “Financial Community in Africa.”

Faye also pledged to renegotiate mining, gas, and oil contracts with foreign companies ahead of hydrocarbon production starting later this year. Senegalese expect this to boost their economy after years of stagnation.

The early returns also mirrored popular frustration with the administration of incumbent President Macky Sall, who backed Ba in the election. He faced criticism for failing to address economic woes, such as unemployment and widespread poverty, and harassing the country’s political opposition.

Sall’s decision to cancel the presidential election in February heightened political instability, triggering a wave of deadly protests before the government and the top court agreed on the new election date of March 24.

Numerous political opponents were jailed in the months leading up to the vote. Faye himself was only released a few days ago and ran on behalf of Ousmane Sonko, an opposition figure disqualified from the race by the courts at the government’s prompting. Sonko enjoys massive support from Senegal’s youth. More than half of Senegalese are under 25.

Senegal has long been held as a model for the region. But more recently, concerns arose about democratic backsliding in the country, which is surrounded by neighbors now ruled by military juntas following coups.

Warm Climate, Cold Feet

EUROPEAN UNION

Decision-makers in the European Union (EU) on Monday voted to indefinitely postpone a climate action plan aimed at preserving biodiversity in the bloc, a move that follows weeks of farmers’ protests across the continent, the Associated Press reported.

The Council of the European Union, made up of ministers from the bloc’s 27 member states, was set to approve the Nature Restoration plan on Monday in a rubber-stamp vote after the European Parliament passed it last month.

It is part of the European Green Deal package, which includes measures to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050, and set the world’s most ambitious climate and biodiversity targets to date.

The Nature Restoration plan was expected to survive the Council’s vote. However, a U-turn by Hungary ended up delaying the measure indefinitely.

This followed weeks of farmers’ protests across the EU that have already led to tens of millions of dollars of losses for businesses because of transportation delays. Farmers have protested EU environmental measures impacting the agricultural sector, saying they jeopardize their livelihoods.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has highlighted the issue of food security in Europe, which has long relied on agricultural imports from Ukraine.

With EU Parliamentary elections coming up in June, the bloc has granted concessions to the farmers. For example, the EU dropped an anti-pesticide proposal in February.

Divided, Past and Present

ARGENTINA

Thousands of Argentines on Sunday took part in an annual commemoration of the 1976 military coup that led to eight years of repression and thousands of deaths, while protesting President Javier Milei’s downplaying of the damage caused by the dictatorship, Reuters reported.

The “Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice” occurs on the anniversary date of the army’s coup against President Isabel Perón on March 24, 1976. Every year, people take to the streets to remember those lost to the junta’s “dirty war” on political opponents. Around 30,000 people were killed, tortured, or disappeared between 1976 and 1983, according to human rights organizations’ figures.

Protesters on Sunday carried photos of missing persons. They were opposition politicians, trade union members, students, and infants. Under the military dictatorship, babies were kidnapped and illegally adopted by other families.

March 24 is usually commemorated in a festive and family-friendly atmosphere. However, this year’s demonstrations, the first to happen under Milei’s presidency, had a more aggressive tone, Agence France-Presse noted. Trade unions joined the protests amid unpopular austerity measures implemented by Milei.

The president, a libertarian and self-described “anarcho-capitalist,” and conservative Vice-President Victoria Villaruel have faced criticism for downplaying the impact of the dictatorship by rejecting human rights organizations’ numbers, instead saying the number of victims was about 9,000.

On Sunday, the government published a 12-minute video focusing on victims of communist guerilla attacks prior to the coup.

“We are facing a denialist government,” activist Taty Almedia told Agence France Presse. Estela de Carlotto, head of a group fighting to find the junta’s stolen children, told Reuters she demanded a law punishing deniers of the dictatorship’s crimes.

Since 2006, 1,176 people have been convicted for crimes related to the military’s rule, including crimes against humanity. But they have received support from Villaruel.

DISCOVERIES

Tapping Into a Mystery

In a riveting dance of deception, poison dart frogs tap their toes faster than renowned tap dancers Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.

Scientists, however, aren’t sure why, the New York Times reported.

A recent study by biologists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign observed dyeing poison dart frogs tapping up to 500 times per minute, possibly in response to fruit flies locked in a petri dish. But their tapping didn’t significantly impact their success in catching prey.

The team explained the frogs tapped most vigorously when perched on leaves, suggesting a link between toe-tapping and prey detection. While some speculate the toe-tapping could lure prey closer – similar to how angler fish use their bioluminescent lure – others believe it might help in sensing vibrations from prey.

Meanwhile, Colombian researchers found that another poison frog species accelerated their toe-tapping before attacking prey. The findings hint at a sensory mechanism at play, with vibrations possibly transmitting signals to their inner ears.

“It’s a potentially really interesting example of a predator using sensory cues to manipulate prey behavior – at least there’s that possibility,” said Reginald Cocroft, a biologist at the University of Missouri who collaborated on the Colombian study.

Another study from Germany revealed that both crickets and smaller fruit flies triggered toe-tapping in green-and-black poison frogs. However, frog calls did not trigger the peculiar behavior, emphasizing a connection between tapping and feeding.

Despite these findings, the exact role of toe-tapping in the frogs’ feeding behavior remains elusive. Researchers plan to delve deeper to uncover whether these frogs tap their toes for a meal or simply for kicks.

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