The World Today for April 16, 2024

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Like Father, Like Son


For years, Togolese citizens have been calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbé. The man has held the office since 2005, but his critics say his political machine stretches beyond those 19 years – his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, was the small, West African country’s president for 38 years before him.

“My father told me to never leave power,” President Gnassingbé famously once said, according to Al Jazeera.

Gnassingbé and his father have run Togo since the country gained independence from France in 1960, wrote Foreign Police magazine. Eyadéma seized power in a coup in 1967. When he died, the military ensured that the son took over. In 2002, the country abolished term limits to allow the president to stay in office.

Recently, anger over Gnassingbé’s refusal to let others take the reins of power had been threatening to bubble over into violence after the president indefinitely postponed legislative and local elections scheduled for April 20.

Last week, the president set a new date – April 29 – for elections, France’s Le Monde reported. But that hasn’t cleared up the situation.

The crisis started when Togo’s legislature adopted a charter last month that empowers lawmakers in the National Assembly to elect a president for a single six-year term, abolishing direct elections, and transferring much of the head of state’s powers to a prime minister who would answer directly to parliament, explained Africa News.

It is unclear when the constitutional changes take effect.

Regardless, opposition candidates rejected the changes, however, saying they would help Gnassingbé remain in power even longer because the prime minister won’t be subject to term limits, the BBC reported. In response, Gnassingbé said the government needed more time to adopt the new rule, but he refused to schedule a new vote until last week.

“The Togolese are angry and they want this constitutional bill to be withdrawn altogether,” Nathaniel Olympio, who leads the opposition Party of the Togolese, said in an interview with Agence France-Presse. “This constitutional coup will not pass … the Togolese people will stand up and say ‘no.’”

Gnassingbé, however, presides over a “partly free” regime, wrote Freedom House, that punishes activists and political dissidents who criticize him or promote reforms.

Togolese police have also raided opposition politicians’ and civil society organizations’ news conferences, where attendees have rallied around the slogan “Don’t Touch My Constitution.” They also arrested prominent opposition politicians who campaigned against the reforms on charges of disturbing the public order, the Associated Press added, including 74-year-old Dovi Amouzou, who suffers from a heart condition but is prevented from seeing her doctor.

Many Togolese are now hoping their country follows in the footsteps of nearby Senegal: After months of an impasse where the former president, Macky Sall, clung to power with every means at his disposal, political newcomer Bassirou Diomaye Faye went from being imprisoned on trumped up charges to becoming the country’s new president on April 2, all within two weeks.

The question now is, analysts say, how much pressure can Togo’s political dissidents dish out – and how much Gnassingbé can take.


No Respite


Australians were left reeling on Monday after a second mass stabbing in three days in the country saw a priest and four worshippers injured in a church in a Sydney suburb, on the heels of a rampage that left six dead at a shopping mall, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The Christ Good Shepherd Church’s live online broadcast of its service showed a man assaulting Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel. Four men were also injured in the attack on the church in Wakeley, which triggered a near-riot outside the building. The assailant’s motives remained unknown, and no link was established between this attack and the Sydney mall stabbing, the BBC noted.

On Monday night, community members gathered in Wakeley to stop the attacker from being escorted out of the church and receiving medical treatment. “The crowd was attacking us, throwing things and being aggressive as we tried to help their bishop,” one police officer told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The church stabbing came as Australians mourned six people killed on Saturday in a shopping center 25 miles away from Wakeley.

Joel Cauchi, 40, stabbed them in the Bondi Junction mall near the famous Bondi Beach before he was shot dead by police officer Amy Scott.

Five of those dead and most of the 12 injured – which included a baby – were female. Cauchi purposefully targeted women and avoided men, New South Wales police said, adding that they were probing his motives, the Associated Press reported.

Cauchi’s parents explained that “he wanted a girlfriend and he’s got no social skills and he was frustrated out of his brain.” They told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that their son had been receiving treatment for his mental illness for 18 years.

Mass murders are rare in Australia, wrote the Conversation, citing a 2017 study that said the country experienced only 14 mass killing incidents between 1964 and 2014. In 2017, a man drove his car into a busy shopping street in Melbourne’s central business district, killing six people, and in 2019, a gunman killed four people in a shooting spree in Darwin, in the Northern Territory.

The Curtain Call


Singapore’s prime minister of 20 years said he would step down next month to relinquish the post to his hand-picked successor, marking the end of an era while also preserving continuity in the prosperous city-state, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Lee Hsien Loong, 72, has led Singapore since 2004. His father, Lee Kwan Yew, was the first post-independence prime minister and is widely credited with turning the city-state into a regional economic powerhouse. As Singaporeans’ priorities switch, Lee’s deputy Lawrence Wong, 51, will take over on May 15 after a carefully crafted transition process, the newspaper wrote.

Since 1965, Singapore has been ruled by the People’s Action Party (PAP), founded by Lee Sr., and has only known three prime ministers. Wong will be the second person outside the Lee dynasty to claim the top job.

He will oversee a country that has become a significant hub for world trade: Singapore is an attractive destination for multinational companies, thanks to business-friendly measures and a reputation as a stable democracy where corruption is rare.

It is also a key partner of the US and China and the flag-bearer of a successful neutrality stance between the two world powers.

In 2012, Lee Jr. said he wanted to retire before turning 70. His plans were delayed by the outbreak of Covid-19, when Wong gained prominence for his leadership of Singapore’s successful response to the pandemic.

The city-state’s fourth generation of leaders, known locally as 4G, found in Wong a “first among equals,” Channel News Asia wrote. Unlike many of his peers, he was not part of the same elite circles growing up.

The PAP managed a transition period of two years to develop the image of a down-to-earth leader capable of appealing to younger voters who are advocating for more social justice and protesting the rising cost of living.

Despite almost constantly winning over 60 percent of the popular vote and 90 percent of the seats in parliament, the PAP has suffered a slow but noticeable decrease in support in recent elections, partially due to corruption scandals involving the ruling elite, Al Jazeera noted.

Meanwhile, “Wong hasn’t articulated a clear vision for where he wants Singapore to go,” political scientist Chong Ja Ian told the WSJ.

Punishing Failure


Hundreds of people who were injured or lost relatives in a 2017 bombing at a concert hall in Manchester launched legal action against British intelligence on Sunday after an inquiry found the attack could have been prevented, the Guardian reported.

Observers said it was the first time MI5, the United Kingdom military’s unit overseeing domestic security, has been sued over a failure to stop a terror attack on British soil. More than 250 people joined the case filed with the investigatory powers tribunal, a court that hears complaints about the nation’s intelligence services.

The bombing of the Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017, killed 22 people, including 10 under the age of 20. Suicide bomber Salman Abedi triggered his explosives as a dense crowd was leaving the venue after they had attended a concert by American singer Ariana Grande.

A report last year concluded that MI5 had received dozens of tips and other information that the agency could have acted on to stop Abedi – but didn’t. Its director general, Ken McCallum, apologized publicly for that failure.

Victims and their families say the agency should pay for its negligence.

In the two years before the Manchester bombing, Europe had been battered by a series of terror attacks that killed hundreds of people in Paris, Brussels, and Nice.

The inquiry established that by failing to launch a serious investigation on received intel, MI5 missed two crucial opportunities to prevent the massacre.

It argued that the agency could have acted upon Abedi’s return from Libya four days prior to the attack and discovered his homemade bomb stored in a car in Manchester.

The security service declined to comment, Sky News reported.


Blood in The Soil

A new genetic analysis is shedding new light on the ancestral lineage and enduring presence of North America’s Blackfoot Indigenous peoples, Science Magazine reported.

Conducted collaboratively by a team of geneticists and Blackfoot community members, the study provided further support to Indigenous oral traditions and archeological evidence attesting to the Indigenous group’s longstanding inhabitation of their ancestral lands across the Rocky Mountains’ eastern slopes in the United States and adjacent plains of what is now Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan in Canada.

Genetic data obtained from modern Blackfoot individuals, as well as historic ancestors dating back 100 to 200 years, were compared so as to unveil a unified genetic lineage. This lineage showed a continuous presence of the Blackfoot people in the region stretching back more than 10,000 years.

The researchers also came across a previously unknown genetic branch that split approximately 18,000 years ago from the major known lineages, and that leads to all other present-day Indigenous people who have been studied genetically across the Americas.

They noted that this split “was very surprising,” adding that it further strengthens the Blackfoot’s claims to ancestral land and water rights.

Scientists not involved in the study explained that the findings have “a lot of implications in terms of the relations of the different early lineages to each other.”

While the study further deepens our understanding of Indigenous history, scholars emphasized the need for caution and further investigation.

Meanwhile, Kim Tallbear, a Native studies researcher uninvolved with the paper, wondered whether it will impact federal-tribal relationships.

“We know Indigenous people were here before settlers, she said, “It’s not a foregone conclusion that adding genetic information to what we already know about Indigenous history in the Americas is going to make a big difference.”

Even so, the research marks a cooperative effort between geneticists and Indigenous communities aiming to rectify historical injustices and foster equitable collaboration in scientific endeavors.

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