The World Today for April 23, 2024

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Breeding Ground


A jihadist insurgency with links to the Islamic State terror group has plagued Mozambique’s lawless Cabo Delgado region for more than six years. Recently, however, an upsurge in violence has forced more than 70,000 people to flee the area, reported News 24.

Local officials, however, say it’s much ado about nothing.

Speaking in the southern African country’s capital Maputo, Defense Minister Cristovao Chume played down the crisis, saying the terrorist threat was not as large as many might believe.

“If, say, two or three armed terrorists arrive in a village where there are no police or armed forces, and shoot in the air, burn two or three cars or houses in the area … the message is spread very quickly and creates panic not only in those villages but also creates national and international panic,” said Chume.

Emilia Columbo, a scholar at the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, disagrees with that assessment. Writing in World Politics Review, she believed that the Islamic insurgency in the country is making a comeback.

In 2021, for instance, jihadists struck in Palma, a town where French energy company Total was building a $20 billion natural gas facility. The attack led to the project’s suspension. That year, Rwandan security forces and international troops with the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) entered Mozambique to help the government of President Filipe Nyusi fight the insurgency.

The SADC forces are now withdrawing, however, wrote African Intelligence, because, as Bloomberg reported, SADC commanders felt as if they had “paralyzed” the jihadists in Cabo Delgado.

But local officials in Cabo Delgado told Voice of America that the terrorists had gone quiet for a while but now had returned with “great fury.”

Josefina Gabriele, 40, can attest to that.

She and her family were sleeping when the insurgents arrived in her village in the north of the country.

“The sounds of gunshots woke us up, the (terrorists) began to chase people, we watched as they cut off the men’s heads with machetes, and we ran away with the little we had,” she told Agence France Presse. “They are evil.”

She was one of thousands who walked in the rain, carrying what they could, south to safety.

This ongoing threat is one reason why Rwanda plans on deploying more troops to Mozambique to help the government’s forces. Nyusi has claimed that his forces are prepared, but the Africa Report disputed that assertion. “The Mozambique army is thin on the ground, is ill-equipped and the population has no confidence in it,” wrote the news website.

The SADC forces’ success was mixed, concluded Thomas Mandrup, an associate professor at Stellenbosch University’s Security Institute for Governance and Leadership In Africa, in the Conversation. The force wasn’t large enough. It didn’t coordinate well with the Mozambican government or their Rwandan colleagues. Mozambique’s forces have yet to improve to pick up the slack, too. Meanwhile, the government isn’t taking full responsibility for the fight against insurgents, which is angering the local population.

As researchers say, it’s not surprising the insurgents are back in full force: Jihadists need these power vacuums to grow.


Mea Culpa


The head of Israel’s military intelligence resigned on Monday, saying he was taking responsibility for the failure to detect and halt Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,200 people and launched the war in Gaza, Al-Monitor reported.

Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva is the first top official in Israel to step down in the aftermath of the attack, which marked the single deadliest day in the country’s history. Soon after, many questioned how Israel’s vaunted intelligence services could fail so spectacularly.

In a statement, Haliva said his services did not fulfill “the task (they) were entrusted with.”

“I carry that black day with me ever since, day after day, night after night,” he added.

His resignation could be the start of resignations by other high-ranking Israeli officials, the Associated Press wrote. Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who welcomed Haliva’s decision, said he hopes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will follow.

Protesters have been demonstrating for months for the prime minister to resign.

Meanwhile, the prime minister thanked the US for its newly approved aid package to Israel, while vowing to deliver “additional and painful blows” to Hamas. For two months, Netanyahu has promised a ground invasion of Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where half of the enclave’s 2 million people have taken shelter. Allies including the US have stated their opposition to such a move.

Overnight Monday, Rafah was among the cities hit by Israeli airstrikes, killing at least 20 people, the Associated Press reported.

Israeli strikes so far have killed 34,151 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government lashed out at the US for its plans to sanction the Israeli Defense Forces’ ultra-Orthodox battalion known as Netzah Yehuda for human rights violations in the West Bank, Axios reported.

Sources within the US government told Axios that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had decided to sanction the battalion following an investigation into incidents of violent behavior against Palestinian civilians that predated the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

“If somebody thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit in the IDF – I will fight this with all my powers,” Netanyahu said.

Choosing Sides


The party of the Maldives’ President Mohamed Muizzu won a landslide in Sunday’s parliamentary election, inverting the balance of power domestically and internationally as it will likely strengthen the current government’s pro-China stance, the Associated Press reported.

Muizzu’s People’s National Congress (PNC) won 70 out of 93 seats, defeating former President Ibrahim Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which is set to win 15 seats, down from 65. With a more than two-thirds majority in parliament, Muizzu will be easily able to pass legislation, observers said.

The election was closely monitored by the two regional powers: India and China. Muizzu and his party are pro-China, ran on an “India Out” platform, and have accused Solih of having sold out to New Delhi.

Earlier this year, President Muizzu asked Indian troops stationed in the Maldives to withdraw. Dozens of military personnel had been stationed in the Maldives to operate helicopters donated by India and assist in sea rescue efforts.

Meanwhile, Muizzu visited China earlier this year and negotiated an increase in the number of tourists and inbound flights from China.

Still, parliament has the power to block the president’s initiatives, NDTV explained. Muizzu faced legislative scrutiny after he came to power last year.

More Power To You


Fed-up Ecuadoreans granted their president more powers to crack down on crime – including the deployment of troops on the streets – in a referendum Sunday that underscores the desperation in the country that is battered by gang violence, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Early returns showed that at least 65 percent of Ecuadoreans approved measures allowing the government to deploy the army along with the police to keep order on the streets, increase sentences for those convicted of terrorism or drug trafficking, and let law enforcement use weapons confiscated from gangs.

With overwhelming support for his anti-gang policies, President Daniel Noboa pledged to “restore peace to Ecuadorean families.”

Noboa, who took over the presidency in November after President Guillermo Lasso resigned, pledged to get the country back on track: Criminal gangs have terrorized the once-stable country over the past few years, killing political candidates and derailing the economy.

Noboa instituted a state of emergency shortly after taking office last year after the country saw its highest-ever number of homicides.

In the past few months, gangs have escalated their terrorizing of civilians, carrying out attacks in malls and hospitals and invading a television studio.

In the past week, two mayors and a prison director were killed, CNN reported.

Ecuador was once known as an “island of peace,” although nestled between the world’s two largest cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia. But the country’s deep ports have made it a key transit point for cocaine making its way to consumers in the United States and Europe. Rival criminal organizations are locked in a battle to control these trafficking routes.

The referendum’s outcome allows Noboa to tackle gang violence without needing emergency powers, thanks to policies that analysts said were inspired by El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele. Bukele’s crackdown on crime brought homicide rates down and spiked incarceration rates, amid concerns of human rights abuses.


Picking Sides

Scientists recently discovered that a gene variant may play a role in determining if a person is a leftie or a rightie, the Smithsonian Magazine reported.

The prevailing research has attributed the determining factors to brain asymmetry, with left-handed individuals exhibiting dominance in the right hemisphere.

This asymmetry develops in the womb and manifests in various ways, but researchers haven’t clearly established the exact mechanisms – until now.

In their new study, a research team analyzed genetic data of around 350,000 people collected from the United Kingdom’s Biobank database.

Their sample was made up of more than 38,000 lefties and around 313,000 righties.

The team explained that past studies came across genes that influenced left-handedness, but they mainly focused on common genetic variants. The new analysis looked into rarer ones as well as variants coded for proteins.

Their findings showed that the TUBB4B variant was more common in left-handed people than in righties.

TUBB4B is present in less than one percent of people and is related to proteins that provide structures for the cells that are called tubulins. The latter are made up of filaments known as microtubules, which act like cells’ skeletons.

The study team and other researchers noted that these findings support the role of tubulins in determining the brain’s asymmetry, as well as how microtubules impact whether a person prefers to use their left or right hand.

Co-author Clyde Francks said the study can give clues about how genes affect the developmental mechanisms of brain asymmetry.

Even so, it could all come down to chance.

“We think that most instances of left-handedness occur simply due to random variation during development of the embryonic brain, without specific genetic or environmental influences,” Francks told Reuters.

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