The World Today for July 05, 2024

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NEED TO KNOW

The Many Shades of Terror

SOMALIA

The Somali National Army suffers from bungling leaders, inexperienced field officers and corrupt overseers who steal food, military equipment, weapons, and ammunition to sell on the black market, reported Voice of America, citing unnamed senior American military officials.

That incompetence entails costs. In the last six months, for example, Al Shabab, a jihadist terror organization with as many as 13,000 fighters operating throughout the Horn of Africa, has reversed the hard-won gains that the Somali National Army made against them in the past two years.

Boasting ties with Al Qaeda, which executed the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001, Al Shabab is allegedly also readying to deploy weapons from the Iran-backed Houthi rebel forces in Yemen, noted CNN.

These weapons are potentially a signal for more cooperation between them, and instability for others. The Houthis are Shiite Muslims, while Al Shabab are Sunni Muslims who historically oppose Shiites. The Houthis need other sources of cash, however, to finance their war against their country’s Saudi Arabian-recognized and supported government and their campaign to disrupt maritime commerce in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Both groups also view the US as their enemy.

Ismail Osman, former deputy director of Somalia’s national intelligence agency, said the accusations were overstated, disputing for example that the Somali National Army is ineffective. He also believes a close Al Shabab alliance with the Houthis is impossible. Meanwhile, he said, civil society in the country has been improving.

“The Somali government, with the support of its citizens, continues to work toward establishing effective governance and security structures,” he argued in Modern Diplomacy. “The portrayal of Somalia as a failing state overlooks these grassroots efforts and the significant strides made in recent years.”

The African Union, an important regional association of countries that seeks to ensure security on the continent, is nonetheless deeply concerned. The bloc recently pledged to replace the more than 13,000 peacekeeping soldiers now expected to leave the country by the end of the year, added Bloomberg.

Defeating Al Shabab was among the top priorities of Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who took office in 2022, having already served in the same position from 2012 to 2017. His failure to achieve his pledge to defeat the group has weighed heavily on Somalis who want to believe in their country, World Politics Review wrote. Such confidence is vital in a land where many citizens remember the collapse of the state all too well, explained the Council on Foreign Relations.

Meanwhile, aside from security concerns, some seemingly intractable problems belie the progress that Osman describes. For example, the economy is unstable, being dependent on agriculture which is subject to droughts and flooding. After agriculture, the second largest contributor to GDP is foreign aid. Meanwhile, another fifth of GDP comes in from the Somali diaspora around the world.

Nowhere are the impacts of the shaky security and economic situations, along with climate change, clearer than on food security: In 2021 began the worst drought the country has experienced in 40 years, pushing it toward famine – before it was followed last year by flooding that wiped out farms and cropland. This added to food shortages and price spikes for commodities, while creating a million more displaced individuals to bring the total to 4 million in the country.

Now, millions are facing “crisis” food insecurity. That includes people like Halima, a mother of five children, who left her home in the Bay region in southwest Somalia after her livestock died and the ground became infertile due to drought, and she ended up walking hundreds of miles to a refugee camp in Dhusamareb in search of water and food.

Now she dreams of being able to provide the basics for her children.

“I would love my kids to get the necessary food to allow them to go to school,” she told the International Rescue Committee. “They can’t get an education while they are hungry.”

The Economist magazine, describing the impact of the drought and flooding and the resulting famine and displacement, said the situation has been exacerbated by the long history of misery in the country.

“Extreme weather and conflict are the most direct causes of the current crisis,” the magazine wrote. “But they would not be nearly as deadly if Somalia’s people had not been impoverished by decades of fighting and rapacious rule by warlords, jihadists and corrupt officials.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Going Softly

PHILIPPINES

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday ordered the military to de-escalate tensions in the South China Sea while maintaining the nation’s maritime rights, a directive that comes amid ongoing disputes and recent confrontations between Philippine and Chinese forces, Bloomberg reported.

The president’s remarks followed a bilateral meeting between senior Philippine and Chinese diplomats Tuesday, discussions aimed at reducing hostilities in the contested waters – but without compromising their respective claims.

Prior to this week’s meeting, the two countries had a serious maritime clash on June 17, where a Filipino sailor lost a finger, and Chinese forces caused significant damage to Philippine boats and equipment.

Despite the call for de-escalation, Philippine Armed Forces chief Romeo Brawner emphasized that missions in the contested waters will proceed unchanged, including the potential involvement of allied nations.

Brawner also demanded compensation of $1 million from Beijing for the damages incurred during the incident, which involved the Chinese Coast Guard using weapons against Philippine boats, Radio Free Asia wrote.

He also insisted that China should cover the medical costs for the injured sailor and return firearms seized by China, while accusing Beijing of committing illegal acts and spreading misinformation within the Philippines.

China has defended its actions as legitimate law enforcement, claiming that the Philippine side initiated the provocation with an illegal resupply mission.

June’s incident marks the third such violent encounter this year involving Philippine personnel in the South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, but an international tribunal ruled in 2016 that Beijing’s territorial claims and insistence on holding “historic rights” to the waters were inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Beijing has never recognized the verdict.

Moving On

SLOVAKIA

Slovakia’s constitutional court this week upheld a number of key provisions of a controversial amendment to the penal code that would weaken anti-corruption measures, changes that have raised concerns about the rule of law in the European Union member state, the Associated Press reported.

The amendments were introduced by Prime Minister Robert Fico and his cabinet earlier this year and were fast-tracked through parliament in February, bypassing the usual parliamentary debates.

The move sparked mass protests across the country and also caused alarm across the EU.

The amendments include the dissolution of the special prosecutor’s office handling severe crimes, reduced sentences for corruption, and shortened statutes of limitations.

Despite protests from thousands of Slovaks and concerns from the European Parliament about its implications for anti-corruption efforts, the country’s top court ruled Wednesday the changes were constitutional.

However, judges annulled a series of clauses that allowed the reopening of past plea deals and property seizures, Reuters noted.

Former President Zuzana Čaputová and opposition parties challenged the amendment, warning that it jeopardized the rule of law, but current President Peter Pellegrini supported the court’s decision. The court’s ruling also preserves the shift of serious crime cases to regional prosecutors who have not handled such cases for 20 years.

Prime Minister Fico, who recently survived an assassination attempt, hailed the ruling as a victory and demanded apologies from his critics.

Even so, EU officials feared these changes might weaken Slovakia’s ability to protect the EU’s financial interests and maintain a robust anti-corruption framework.

Fico’s fourth term began last October after his leftist party Smer won parliamentary elections, campaigning on pro-Russian and anti-American platforms.

His critics worry that Slovakia is shifting away from its pro-Western stance, similar to Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Turning Over a New Leaf

INDONESIA

Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian militant group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, has dissolved itself, an Indonesia-based think tank confirmed Thursday, an announcement that analysts say could transform the group’s future activities, Reuters reported.

In a video statement, 16 senior leaders confirmed the group’s dissolution and declared their commitment to Indonesian state law and orthodox Islam.

The statement dated June 30 and was authenticated by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). The Indonesian National Counter Terrorism Agency has not yet commented on the video.

The JI – allegedly linked to Al Qaeda – has been responsible for some of Indonesia’s most devastating attacks, including the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed more than 200 people.

Sidney Jones of IPAC suggests that the disbandment was influenced by several factors, including a growing intellectual faction within JI less inclined toward violence; a strategic move to protect JI’s educational institutions; and ongoing engagement with counterterrorism officials.

Observers told Channel News Asia that the announcement marked a pivotal moment in Indonesia’s fight against terrorism, suggesting it could point toward increased public involvement by former leaders. Analysts also said the move may shield former terrorists from arrest, as well as allow them to operate in other areas, such as business, education and politics.

They added the move presents a challenge for Indonesia’s security agencies, which must now reassess their approach to former JI members and their integration into society.

IPAC cited the great respect commanded by the JI’s leadership, saying it would encourage many members to accept the dissolution. However, it cautioned about JI’s history of splinter groups and the potential formation of new factions in the future.

DISCOVERIES

Hidden in Plain Sight

Everyone mistakenly judges a book by its cover, and even archeologists are prone to quick assessments.

That seems to have been the case with an ancient papyrus fragment that turned out to be the oldest surviving copy of a gospel detailing Jesus’ childhood.

Researchers Lajos Berkes and Gabriel Nocchi Macedo recently came across the nearly 1,500-year-old papyrus fragment that had been sitting unnoticed at the Carl von Ossietzky State and University Library in Hamburg, Germany.

They were astounded at what they found on it.

Berkes and Nocchi Macedo noticed the word “Jesus” in the text, prompting them to compare it with other early Christian texts, using keywords like “crowing” and “branch.”

They realized the piece, which dates to the fourth or fifth century CE describes the beginning of the ‘vivification of the sparrows,’ an episode in which the child Jesus molds 12 sparrows from clay and brings them to life by clapping his hands.

It’s a copy of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas that detailed the early life of Jesus Christ. The gospel is an apocryphal work which means that it was not considered part of the Biblical canon – even though the stories were popular and widely read during antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Theological historians believe the text was originally written around the second century CE. Before the recent find, a codex from the 11th century was the oldest known Greek version of the Gospel of Thomas.

So how did it get ignored for such a long time?

“It was thought to be part of an everyday document, such as a private letter or a shopping list, because the handwriting seems so clumsy,” Berkes said in a statement.

The discovery provides important context for the New Testament, highlighting the richness of early Christian literature and offering insights into the beliefs and practices of early Christian communities.

“Here we have one more witness to the diversity of Christian scripture before the development of a fixed canon,” Michael Zellmann-Rohrer, a papyrologist at Australia’s Macquarie University who was not involved in the finding, told the Washington Post.

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