NIGERIA

The Palestinians try to reconcile

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Mr Hamdallah (right) tries to shake loose some concessions IT MUST have felt like déjà vu for Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian prime minister, as he crossed the heavily-fortified border into Gaza on October 2nd. It was his first visit in two-and-a-half years. There were speeches, rallies and lofty promises to end the schism that has paralysed Palestinian politics for more than a decade. It was like a replay of a trip he made in 2014 to inaugurate a new unity government— which fell apart within weeks. The Palestinian territories split in 2007, a year after Hamas, the militant Islamist group, won a majority in parliament. It seized control of Gaza after months of bloody fighting with its nationalist rival, Fatah. Since then Hamas has run the coastal strip as a separate fief, with its own c

Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism is being tested

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FOR centuries the city of Harar, on the eastern fringes of the Ethiopian highlands, was a sanctuary, its people protected by a great wall that surrounded the entire city. But in the late 19th century it was finally annexed by the Ethiopian empire. Harar regained a bit of independence in 1995, when the area around it became the smallest of Ethiopia’s nine ethnically based, semi-autonomous regions. Today it is relatively peaceful and prosperous—and, since last month, a sanctuary once more. In recent weeks thousands of Ethiopians have poured into areas around Harar, fleeing violence in neighbouring towns (see map). Nearly 70,000 people have sought shelter just east of the city. Several thousand more are huddling in a makeshift camp in the west. Most are Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic gro

Jalal Talabani’s mediating skills will be much missed

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FUNERALS can bring estranged parties together. And if anyone’s could heal the fissure between leaders in Baghdad and those in Iraq’s Kurdish enclave, that of Jalal Talabani should be the one. Mr Talabani died on October 3rd in Germany, aged 83. For 60 years “Mam”, or uncle, as Arabs and Kurds alike called him, made a career out of bridging differences. After Saddam Hussein fell in 2003, he became Iraq’s first non-Arab president. A Sunni preacher’s son, he kept excellent relations with Shia politicians, particularly in Iran. He kissed both Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and America’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. For years he battled his Kurdish rival, Masoud Barzani, pitting his humble origins and leftist leanings against the Barzanis’ tribal heft. (In 1996 Mr Barzani ev

The birthplaces of African leaders receive an awful lot of aid

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IN 2010 Yang Jiechi, then China’s foreign minister, visited Yoni, a village in Sierra Leone. Mr Yang had a job to do: hand over a fancy new school, financed by Chinese aid, to the local authorities. Sierra Leone certainly needed more schools, but some wondered why the Chinese chose the middle of the bush for the project. It just so happens that Yoni is the home village of Ernest Bai Koroma, Sierra Leone’s president. Yoni’s residents, note Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, two economists, live in new houses that would pass for “palaces” by the standards of rural Africa. Scholars have long had a hunch that Chinese aid could be more easily manipulated than the Western sort, which often comes with strings attached. A Chinese white paper in 2014 stated that the government would not impose any

Syria’s destruction revives a dream of rebuilding Lebanon’s railway

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TRAVELLERS to Lebanon have long bemoaned the state of the country’s roads. Writing in the 1850s, an Irish banker, James Farley, called the route from Beirut to Damascus a “wretched mule path”. The perilous journey over rough mountain passes took four days, as long as you dodged bandits and avoided the winter snow. The mules have gone but the sorry state of the country’s roads persists. Years of political chaos, low investment and more recently the influx of 1.5m Syrian refugees, which has sapped resources, exacerbated the problem. Could a revival of railways save the day? The fate of Lebanon’s rail network tracks the rise and fall of the country’s fortunes. Built by an enterprising French count when Beirut was still ruled by the Ottoman Turks, the first line opened in 1895, cutting the

Liberia gears up for an election

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AS LIBERIA prepares for a general election on October 10th, people are making their preferences known. Some wear T-shirts with the faces of candidates on them. Crowds of exuberant supporters block roads. The country was devastated by civil war for the best part of 14 years until 2003. But aside from a few scuffles, the campaign has been peaceful. People feel excited, not adversarial. Liberia is set to have its first transfer of power from one elected president to another since 1944. It is still not clear who among the 20 candidates will succeed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president, who won a Nobel prize for securing Liberia’s peace. “Continuity” is the message of her Unity Party (UP). Its candidate is Joseph Boakai, Ms Sirleaf’s mild-mannered vice-president, who is seen by many as a saf