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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

Iran’s Kurds are growing restless, too

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THE Kurds of Iran are calling for independence just as lustily as their cousins in Iraq, perhaps even more so. While the mood in the streets of Iraq’s Kurdish cities was generally subdued and nervous after their referendum on independence on September 25th, wilder celebrations erupted across the border in Iranian Kurdistan. In the Kurdish cities of Baneh, Sanandaj and Mahabad demonstrations lasted for two days, even as armoured cars drove through the streets heralding a wave of arrests. Crowds sang the anthem of the Republic of Mahabad, the Kurdish state that briefly held sway in north-western Iran in 1946. Kurdish flags flew from lampposts. Some Iranian Kurds talked dreamily of a state they call Rojhelat, or East Kurdistan, which would slough off the “occupation” by Ajamastan, a pejorativ

Egypt’s Shia come out of hiding

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SINCE the dawn of Islam, Shias have been trying to penetrate Egypt. Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and the first imam of Shia Islam, sent a loyal follower to govern the area. But no sooner had he arrived than he was captured by Sunni opponents, sewn into the belly of a donkey and burnt. Later the Fatimids, a Shia dynasty, captured Egypt and ruled it for two centuries. But Saladin overthrew them and, according to Shia lore, massacred thousands while levelling much of Cairo. “Kharab al-Din,” spits a Shia librarian in Alexandria, twisting Saladin’s name to mean destroyer of religion. Since then Shias in Egypt have pretended to be Sunnis. Some cloak their traditions in the mystical rites of the Sufis. They join their moulids, or birthday celebrations, for saints and camp at the shri

South Africa’s ruling party is at war with itself

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DEEP in the southern hills of KwaZulu-Natal, mourners came to bury Sindiso Magaqa on September 16th. In July gunmen ambushed Mr Magaqa and two other councillors from the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party, as they sat in a car. (Mr Magaqa died in hospital on September 4th.) Three other ANC politicians from the same area were gunned down between April and May. Across the province, there have been at least 40 politically motivated killings since the start of 2016. Most of the violence has occurred within the ANC, which is steeped in corruption at all levels. On September 27th thousands of South Africans marched in protests against the graft and the country’s scandal-plagued president, Jacob Zuma, who heads the party. Nowhere is the rot within the ANC more evident