The World Today for June 24, 2024

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A Permanent Transition


Global leaders are putting their heads together to solve South Sudan’s political crisis and civil war so the country can form a stable government and devote its energies into building new infrastructure, institutions and a civil society.

Dennis Francis, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago who serves as the president of the United Nations General Assembly, recently visited South Sudan, for instance. He met President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is now negotiating a permanent peace deal to mark the end of the country’s civil war, as well as local leaders, journalists and others.

Francis discussed ongoing talks in Kenya, humanitarian aid, democratic processes, and elections that are scheduled in December – but which many observers are skeptical will happen, at least freely. He also met with internally displaced people, community leaders and specialists seeking to eliminate mines, among other things, a press release said.

The visit came at a perilous time.

In 2018, after five years of fighting, Mayardit agreed to a power-sharing agreement with Riek Machar, a former vice president who launched the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition’s campaign against the central government after Mayardit accused him of planning a coup. The war devastated the South, which became independent from Sudan in 2011. Violence has forced 2.3 million refugees to flee South Sudan, according to the UN. Around 33,000 are now in neighboring Uganda, reported the Sudan Tribune.

Now the two men are telling diplomats in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi that they are committed to peace, wrote the Associated Press. Many South Sudanese groups are pushing not only for elections, but for a new constitution that would address the conditions that helped trigger the civil war as well as enshrine human rights, according to the Kenyan news site, the East African.

In the meantime, both men have benefitted from pitting their fellow citizens against each other, say observers. Both are kingpins who have created grand patronage networks, promoted polarization based on ethnic lines, and used other autocratic methods to control vast swaths of the country. Now they can feed on international aid, too. “South Sudan is now in its sixth year of ‘transition’ with very little to show for it,” argued the left-wing magazine Jacobin.

Other factors are now in play, too. These troubles are occurring as civil war engulfs neighboring Sudan, while famine, tragically, sweeps through that country, the BBC noted.

Mayardit so far has been able to leverage his access to South Sudan’s oil to wage his fight and fund his repressive regime, where torture, extrajudicial killings and other brutal means help him retain power. Now, however, the unrest in Sudan is making it harder for South Sudan to export crude, complicating Mayardit’s position, the Crisis Group added, as the lost revenues threaten to slip South Sudan closer to total economic collapse.

The crisis group added that that might be enough of an incentive to make peace.


Not Making the Grade


Protests erupted across India this week over allegations of widespread corruption involving the country’s national medical entrance exam, a scandal that has prompted calls for accountability on the issue of youth unemployment, the South China Morning Post reported.

Allegations of cheating and test leaks arose after the June 4 results revealed unusually high scores in the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Exam Test – Undergraduate (NEET-UG), prompting concerns over exam integrity and fairness.

More than two million students compete annually for 110,000 spots to study medicine, with 60,000 in state universities and the rest in private colleges.

Students and parents have filed numerous court petitions, citing paper leaks and flawed questions. Activists highlighted the urgent need for a thorough investigation and a fair do-over, emphasizing the impact on 2.4 million students preparing for a career in medicine.

The Supreme Court has urged the government and National Testing Agency (NTA), which handles the exam, to address these demands.

Initially, the NTA denied any allegations of cheating, but later canceled scores for some students and scheduled a do-over for June 23. Police also detained a number of people in the states of Gujarat and Bihar over exam fraud.

The scandal puts increasing pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who secured a third term in office after this month’s general elections that were overshadowed by issues such as inequality, unemployment and joblessness. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party otherwise lost its majority in parliament, with Modi only able to remain in office by forming a coalition government with other parties.

Opposition parties have seized on the scandal to criticize Modi for ruining the country’s education and recruitment system, as well as worsening youth unemployment, according to the Times of India.

India’s rapid economic growth contrasts with its struggle to generate sufficient jobs: Despite India’s official unemployment rate falling to 3.2 percent in 2023, joblessness remains highest among educated youth between the ages of 15 to 29. The 2024 India Employment Report noted a decline in youth labor force participation from 54 percent in 2000 to 42 percent.

Amid the controversy, the Ministry of Education has dismissed the opposition’s allegations and announced the cancellation of another entrance exam, due to compromised integrity. Even so, Indian activists are calling for a revised exam process to prevent future irregularities.

A Sense of (In)Security


Shootings at the presidential palace and the national broadcaster’s headquarters in the capital, Ouagadougou, are intensifying concerns about a potential mutiny in Burkina Faso amid a deteriorating security situation nearly two years after a military coup, Al Jazeera reported.

These incidents reflect mounting challenges to junta leader Capt. Ibrahim Traore, who took power in a 2022 coup with promises to restore security and expedite a transition to democracy, the news outlet wrote.

On June 11, the Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) – an al-Qaeda affiliate – launched an attack on an army base near the Niger border, resulting in the deaths of 107 soldiers.

This attack – one of the worst military losses since Islamist conflict spread from neighboring Mali in 2015 – has heightened dissatisfaction within the army.

The next day, gunfire erupted at the Radio Télévision du Burkina (RTB) headquarters, close to the presidential palace. Authorities initially remained silent but later attributed the incident to friendly fire.

That incident came a month after a shooting at the presidential palace, where a lone attacker was reportedly subdued.

Meanwhile, Traore visited the RTB premises this week to reassure the station’s staff and dispel any rumors of instability in the country. He accused some media outlets of spreading false information about the current situation and rumors that he had gone into hiding, Africanews added.

But analysts warned that these incidents could precede significant internal military realignments and possible rebellion.

Earlier this month, Traore announced a five-year extension of the transitional period, citing continued insecurity, especially in the northeast where armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State control nearly half the country. Critics accused Traore of exploiting the security crisis to prolong his grip on power.

There are also fears that the shootings could spark stronger reactions from Traore: Since the coup, the military junta has become more repressive, with arrests increasing.

Traore has also distanced Burkina Faso from France, instead aligning with Russia. Recent reports suggested that fighters from the Kremlin-linked Wagner mercenary group have been deployed in the country.

Meanwhile, the conflict has displaced more than 10 percent of the population and shuttered more than 5,000 schools.

Total Rethink


The United Kingdom’s top court ruled this week that the impact on the climate from fossil fuels must now be considered when approving new drilling sites projects, a landmark verdict that deals a blow to the oil and gas industry in the country, Euronews reported.

The case centers on a lawsuit by campaigner Sarah Finch, on behalf of the environmental group Weald Action Group, against a local council’s decision to extend planning permission for an oil drilling well in Horse Hill, in southeastern England, in 2019.

In her suit, Finch claimed that officials assessing the environmental impact of projects must also consider the greenhouse emissions generated from using oil and gas, not just the emissions produced by the drilling and extraction itself.

The council countered that it had the discretion to determine the full impact a project would have, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

In its ruling, three out of five judges found that “once oil has been extracted from the ground, the carbon contained within it will sooner or later be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and so will contribute to global warming,” the Guardian noted.

Observers explained that the court’s decision essentially considers the future environmental impacts of using these fossil fuels, commonly referred to as ‘scope 3’, or downstream emissions.

The top court also said that the broader geographical impacts of newly extracted fossil fuels should be considered, rather than restricting assessments to the areas in and around the drilling sites.

While the verdict does not restrict public officials from approving projects with big climate impacts, it reinforces the case of refusing them. Some observers noted that it could encourage climate advocates to sue the government’s decision to approve a new coal mine in northwestern England – a move that had been delayed pending the Horse Hill verdict.

Finch and other climate groups welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision as “a welcome step towards a safer, fairer future.”

The decision is another victory for environmental advocates.

It comes months after the UK withdrew from an international treaty that allowed fossil fuel firms to sue governments pursuing climate policies that affect their profits, the BBC wrote.

The government withdrew from the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) in February, saying the agreement was “outdated.”

The treaty aimed to make energy trading easier among countries – but also sparked a myriad of lawsuits by companies against governments, claiming their investments had been damaged by green policies such as renewable-energy subsidies.

Even so, the Supreme Court’s verdict, the withdrawal from the ECT and the windfall taxes on profits of these companies have prompted some big oil and gas giants to consider exiting the British market.

For example, major players, such as Shell and BP, said they are abandoning their North Sea oil operations, which could destabilize the UK energy market, which remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels due to insufficient green energy investments, analysts said.


The Galaxy Girls

The colonization of space by mankind is not likely coming anytime soon.

That’s because the human body is not yet able to handle long-haul spaceflights in zero to low gravity, or walking on alien planets, such as Mars – where the lack of a magnetic field makes humans’ fleshy bodies prone to space radiation.

Even so, a research team reported in a new study that the prospects to expand beyond Earth aren’t all gloomy.

“There’s no showstopper,” Christopher Mason, a professor of physiology and biophysics and one of the leaders of the new research told the Washington Post. “But there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to safely get to Mars and back.”

For their paper, Mason and his colleagues analyzed medical data collected by the Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA). The data trove is considered the most comprehensive medical database that shows what happens to spacefarers when they leave the planet.

Most of the data used derives from the all-civilian Inspiration4 spaceflight mission in 2021, operated by SpaceX. The four-person crew provided extensive biospecimens before, during and after the mission.

The research team then compared this information with medical and biological research on 64 astronauts from NASA.

Looking into gene activity and immune system responses, they came across a series of findings and changes to our bodily constitution – but no “red flags.”

One of the key changes was that telomeres – structures found at the end of chromosomes – elongated after three days in space. The immune system also experienced alterations, with some anti-inflammatory proteins increasing, while virus-fighting anti-gens saw a reduction in numbers, Futurism explained.

But what stood out was the recovery period between genders: Women were able to recover quicker from spaceflight than men, who “appear to be more affected by spaceflight for almost all cell types and metrics,” the team wrote.

The authors cannot explain this phenomenon but they suggested it has to do with physiological stresses and adaptions women experience during pregnancies.

Even so, they added that the analysis could help develop innovative tools and pharmaceuticals to allow humans to explore the final frontier.

Otherwise, some scientists told National Geographic in 2019 that future space missions could be entirely made up of women. They noted that women suffer less from the effects of spaceflight and consume up to 25 percent fewer calories than men.

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