african inspired

After all but defeating the jihadists, Iraq’s army turns on the Kurds

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WHEN a leader loses half his realm and his government’s main source of revenue and shatters his people’s dreams of independence, all in a couple of days, an apology might seem in order. But Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, is not offering one. In the face of a lightning Iraqi advance, Kurdish forces retreated this week from territory they had occupied since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Mr Barzani blamed “traitors” and said he would fight another day. The sudden collapse of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and with them the Kurds’ cherished dream of statehood, contrasts awkwardly with the inflated promises Mr Barzani made before the rout. Last month he insisted on staging a referendum on Kurdish independence, not just within the Kurdistan region’s original bord

The loneliest plant on earth

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WOOD’S CYCAD is a striking plant, tall with a shaggy green crown and bright orange cones. But despite its good looks, it will never find a mate. “The loneliest plant in the world, right here,” a guide tells a golf cart full of visitors touring the Durban Botanic Gardens. Found in a Zululand forest in 1895, it is the only cycad of its kind, and a male. Without a female it will never reproduce sexually, though offshoots have been used to make clones of it. The sense of its isolation is magnified by the security cameras trained on the plant to thwart thieves. Cycads, which resemble spiky palm trees and bear pineapple-shaped seed cones, trace their lineage to the time of the dinosaurs. But some species might not be around much longer. They are the world’s most threatened plant group, accord

John Magufuli is bulldozing the opposition and wrecking the economy

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CRITICALLY ill in a hospital in Nairobi, Tundu Lissu, the chief whip of Tanzania’s main opposition party, Chadema, is a lesson to those who would criticise the Tanzanian president, John Magufuli (pictured). On September 7th Mr Lissu was gunned down in broad daylight near his house in the sleepy administrative capital, Dodoma, after returning from a session in parliament. The attempted assassination came just two weeks after he was arrested—for the sixth time—for such things as insulting the president. It is not clear who was behind the attack. A month later, the government has yet to make any arrests. Mr Lissu had previously complained about being followed, and said he worried he might be killed. “This cowardly attack on one of Tanzania’s most fearless and prominent politicians raises c

The boycott of Qatar is hurting its enforcers

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Doh! The embargo isn’t working THE largest insurer in the Gulf should have taken out a policy on itself. Last year Qatar Insurance collected about 110m rials ($30m) in premiums from its Abu Dhabi office. But in September it announced that, because of a diplomatic dispute, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)would not renew its business licence, forcing it to close its branch in the Emirati capital. Its stock price has fallen by 30% since the beginning of the summer. It has been more than four months since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt closed their borders and cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. The so-called quartet wants the little gas-rich emirate to stop supporting Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and to shut down Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular broadcast

Syria’s Kurds led the advance on Raqqa, but now may fracture

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The wreckage of Raqqa THE bodies of the dead would hang for days from the railings in the main square of Raqqa. It was a macabre reminder to residents that Islamic State (IS) had declared the capital of its so-called caliphate in the Syrian city. Signs around the victims’ necks revealed their crimes. Dozens were executed for spying; others for smoking or listening to music. This week that reign of terror ended. On October 17th, after four months of heavy fighting, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an army of Kurds and Arabs, took the square. Tying yellow and green flags to the railings where the bodies once hung, they stomped and shouted to celebrate. The capture of Raqqa highlights how over the past few years the SDF has become the most effective American-backed force in the fight a