The World Today for May 06, 2024

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The Last, Wobbly Domino


When polls in the landlocked central African country of Chad open on May 6, it will be the first of coup-hit states across Central and West Africa to use the ballot box to try to emerge from years of military rule.

But no one really believes that will actually happen, reported France24. Instead, what’s more likely is the vote provides a veneer of legitimacy to the military-run government led by a man whose hold on power is shaky.

In the race, Gen. Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, whom the military junta installed in power three years ago after the death of his father, will face off against a host of opposition candidates – including Prime Minister Succès Masra, a former rival of the general who became premier four months ago in a power-sharing agreement that Déby blessed, reported the Senegal-based African Press Agency.

Critics don’t think Masra is really interested in becoming president, they think he is running to split the vote. “The opposition says his candidacy is a ploy to give an appearance of pluralism in a vote the junta chief is certain to win with his main rivals (either) dead or in exile,” wrote Le Monde.

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Chad has not realized a peaceful, orderly or fair transition of power. Instead, coups d’état and rebellions mark its history. Déby’s father, Idriss Déby, was a violent autocratic who was killed while fighting rebels after 30 years in power, wrote the Guardian. His generals elevated his son to lead them. Now, lacking his father’s military record – though trained at a French military academy – he’s seeking to secure his legitimacy through an election.

His apparent means of winning, however, includes shutting down talk shows, deploying security forces who fire upon protesters, and competing against rivals who conveniently fall victim to murder, prosecutions and other career-ending happenstance, civil society advocates say. He has also partnered with France, the latter as a security guarantor, at a time when Russian forces have gained ground in the formerly French colonies in the region and kicked French forces out (as in Mali, for example), added World Politics Review.

With this context in mind, some Chadian observers wonder aloud if Masra is truly running to defeat Déby. Masra has hit the campaign trail, where crowds assembled for his events. University of N’Djamena political scientist Kelma Manatouma told Agence France-Presse that Masra now believes he might replicate in Chad the surprise victory of Diomaye Faye, who won Senegal’s presidential election in March.

At the same time, Déby is angering the generals in control, not least because he’s solicited Hungarian military help, ostensibly to avoid a coup deposing him. Even so, rumors of coups are rife in Chad these days.

Chad’s politics are important because Chad sits at the crossroads of Africa. It borders Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger – all hot spots where terrorism, civil wars, internecine violence, refugee migration, crimes against humanity, and state and societal breakdowns have been ongoing for decades, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It calls the region the “most dangerous and unstable stretch of territory in the world today.”

The problem is, say analysts, that its geographical location – between a raging civil war to the east in Sudan and an unchecked terrorist insurgency in the western Sahel – means that Chad’s collapse could be a disaster. It would create a bridge that merges “the flow of fighters, weapons, and violence between these two regions” embroiled in conflict, “a virtual Pandora’s box clear across Africa.”


The Taste of Feet


Japan and India furiously rejected statements by US President Joe Biden this week calling the two allies “xenophobic” countries for not welcoming immigrants, while also grouping them in with China and Russia, Al Jazeera reported.

Biden’s comments came during a campaign fundraiser, where he remarked that China, Russia, India, and Japan were stalling economically because “they don’t want immigrants.”

Officials later clarified that the comments were meant to underscore the role immigrants play in strengthening the US economy and did not have “the intent of undermining” the US-Japan relationship, according to the BBC.

In a statement, Japan’s embassy in Washington DC described the president’s remarks as “unfortunate” and “not based on an accurate understanding of Japan’s policies.” However, it acknowledged the Biden administration’s clarification, adding that the statements would not impact the relationship between the two allies.

India also countered that it has historically been open to immigrants and that its economy is “not faltering.”

Separately, Chinese pundits also chided Biden, with one claiming the US president was “obsessed with smearing China.”

The comments struck a chord among observers, particularly because the Biden administration has made a point of boosting relations with both nations since taking office in 2021.

Japan has the lowest immigrant population of any Group of Seven nations – around two percent – and has historically imposed a strict immigration policy. But in recent years it has opened its doors to foreigners to make up for its rising aging population.

Meanwhile, India has drawn criticism for its implementation of the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, which expedites naturalization for non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

While the law facilitates the migration process for some asylum seekers, opponents argue it discriminates against Muslims and violates the constitution.

The Kids Are Back


The United Kingdom’s Labour Party secured major victories in England’s local elections this week, indicating a potential shift in the political landscape ahead of the upcoming general election to be held by January, Reuters reported.

Results showed that the Labour Party triumphed in mayoral polls in London and the central West Midlands region, dealing crushing blows to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party.

The reelection of Labour’s Sadiq Khan as London mayor was largely expected, but the party’s surprise narrow victory in the West Midlands, home to the metropolis of Birmingham, underscored its resurgence following years of dismal performance – including its defeat in the 2019 parliamentary polls, the worst loss since 1935.

Analysts said that the outcome reflects public discontent with the Conservative government, underscored by Labour gaining ground in areas historically held by the ruling party.

Labour leader Keir Starmer emphasized that the results exceeded expectations and signify a desire for change from Conservative “chaos and decline.”

Sunak, facing pressure from within his party, hoped for an electoral boost from recent announcements on defense spending and controversial policies such as sending asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, according to the Associated Press.

However, the Conservatives lost around half of the 1,000 council seats they held. The defeat of the Conservative incumbent mayor in the West Midlands led analysts to suggest it could intensify concerns among lawmakers about their prospects in the upcoming general election.

Labour’s success in areas that previously supported Brexit and its ability to win control of councils long held by the Conservatives also indicated a broadening base of support.

Despite attempts to stabilize the governing party’s position following the tumultuous tenures of prime ministers Boris Johnson and his successor Liz Truss, Sunak’s leadership does not appear to have improved the Conservatives’ electoral prospects.

The rising uptake of tactical voting – voters opting for parties with the best chance of defeating the Conservatives – also poses a challenge to Sunak’s party, analysts said.

Local polls also saw the emergence of Reform UK, prompting questions about whether the right-wing populist group could draw votes away from the Conservatives and further complicate the electoral landscape for the party.

Labour’s victory, despite internal tensions over its stance on issues like the Gaza conflict, suggests a shift leftward ahed of the upcoming general election.

The election date has not yet been set but is expected to take place in the second half of 2024.

Murder By Proxy


Canadian police charged three Indian nationals in the assassination of prominent Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, intensifying a diplomatic dispute between Canada and India following Ottawa’s accusation of New Delhi’s involvement in the murder, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested the suspects – all in their 20s – and charged them with first-degree murder Friday. Police officials said they are still probing any connections between the three individuals and the Indian government.

The detentions come nearly eight months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told parliament that Canada was pursuing “credible allegations” about Indian government agents being involved in Nijjar’s killing.

The well-known Sikh activist was killed by two masked armed men in Surrey, in the province of British Columbia in June.

India rejected the allegations as “absurd,” sparking a dispute that saw both nations expelling each other’s diplomats.

But Trudeau’s allegations received some backing in November after the United States accused Indian citizen Nikhil Gupta of cooperating with India’s government to orchestrate an ultimately foiled plot to assassinate another Sikh activist and close associate of Nijjar.

The US accusation prompted the Indian government to set up a panel to investigate the allegations. However, India has continued to dismiss Canada’s claims, saying Canadian authorities have not provided enough evidence to warrant taking the accusations seriously.

Meanwhile, New Delhi has accused Canada of sheltering Sikh extremists and terrorists such as Nijjar, who threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to Sky News.

Nijjar supported the creation of an independent Sikh state, named Khalistan, out of India’s northern Punjab state. The topic of Khalistan remains sensitive in India, where the movement took a militant form in the 1980s and 90s, resulting in bloody conflicts in Punjab and other parts of northern India.

Indian authorities did not comment on the recent arrests, but reiterated their complaints that Ottawa has given “space to Khalistan forces and also allowed them to indulge in activities that adversely impact bilateral relations between India and Canada.”

Canada hosts the largest Sikh population outside of India, making up more than two percent of the population and exerting significant political influence in suburban Toronto and Vancouver.


Desert Highways

Archaeologists discovered that ancient humans inhabited a lava tube in modern-day Saudi Arabia for thousands of years, the first time such a geological formation has been investigated by an archaeological team in the region, Cosmos Magazine reported.

In their study, a research team wrote that they found evidence of human activity from the Neolithic period to the Bronze Age at the Umm Jirsan site.

Their findings include animal remains, human-made pottery and even rock art depicting various hoofed animals, such as sheep, goats and ibex.

The team suggested that the site was used by early pastoralist communities, noting that the lava tube acted as an important checkpoint between two oases. They also hinted that routes were also used for burials.

While they are still trying to determine the exact purpose of the routes, researchers explained that they served as important social, economic and cultural “lifeways” for Saudi’s ancient pastoralist societies.

“We put forth this hypothesis that this is … perhaps our sort of stopping off point on these pastoral migration routes,” noted lead author Mathew Stewart.

The unique formation of Umm Jirsan is located in a volcanic area of Arabia: Stretching about a mile long, it formed when lava flows cooled and solidified on the surface but later hollowed out to create long tunnels or caverns within the hardened rock.

The authors also hailed the study as integral in better understanding early societies in the arid deserts of Arabia, noting that fossil records in those areas are very scarce.

“This is in a landscape where this sort of material doesn’t tend to survive on the surface, the Holocene fossil record in Arabia is very poor,” said Stewart. “Umm Jirsan, lava tubes, (and) caves in general hold huge potential in an arid area, like Arabia, to fill in a lot of these gaps that we have in both the fossil record and the archaeological record.”

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