THIS time Donald Trump seemed to back his braggadocio with results. On September 7th he met the ruler of Kuwait, who has tried to mediate the three-month feud between Qatar and his Gulf neighbours led by Saudi Arabia. Mr Trump suggested a new mediator: himself. “I think you’d have a deal worked out very quickly,” he said. The next day Qatar’s emir made a surprise phone call to the Saudi crown prince, their first known talk since the crisis began.
But the rapprochement was fleeting. Hours after the call, Qatar’s state news agency said that Saudi Arabia had offered to appoint two envoys to negotiate a deal. But the Saudis were insulted. It was as if they had made the first concessions. Qatar’s report, they fumed, was a “distortion…of the facts.” Any further talks stalled. The call had mad
THE recovery of southern Iraq’s marshlands is arguably one of the great environmental triumphs of recent times. Reduced to dust and withered reeds when Saddam Hussein drained them to flush out rebels in the 1990s, the wetlands once again buzz with birds, dragonflies and the songs of buffalo-breeders, thanks to the devoted efforts of Iraqi conservationists. But the renewed symphony may be the marshes’ swan-song. A water crisis rooted in wasteful irrigation, climate change and dam-building is imperilling them again.
A weakened flow into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers means that salt water from the Persian Gulf can now seep upstream into the marshes. This, coupled with farming run-off that has boosted salinity, again threatens wetland wildlife, vegetation and the local Marsh Arabs who hav
THE train north from Cairo winds through the lush fields and meandering canals of the Nile Delta, before chugging into Alexandria. The scenery is pleasant on a 180km journey that can drag on for more than four hours. It is slow enough that EgyptAir offers flights on the same route.
Egypt’s state-owned, 6,700km rail network, the oldest in Africa, has seen better days. Stations are dingy; trains are dangerous and often delayed. In August 41 people were killed in one collision. It was the deadliest crash since 2012, but smaller ones are common, with over 1,200 last year alone. (Britain’s rail network, with three times as many passengers, saw about 750.)
Days after the accident the transport minister said that he would bring in the private sector to improve quality and safety. His ministry
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Laughing and learning
WHEN 14 years of civil war ended in 2003, Liberia was left with decrepit schools. Many children carried Kalashnikovs rather than textbooks. Since then Liberian governments have tried to start afresh. But, in part because of the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, efforts to improve education have made halting progress.
The consequences are grim. Less than 40% of school-age children attend primary school. By the time they are 18, girls are more likely to be married than literate. Just one woman in four who has finished primary school can read a sentence. According to a study published in 2014, more than 40% of girls have been asked for sex in return for better grades, money or school supplies.
One reason for optimism, however, is Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), a pil...
IF AT first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That, it seems, is the advice of Kenya’s supreme court to its electoral commission. In a shock decision on September 1st, the court ruled that the presidential election held last month, in which Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent, beat Raila Odinga (pictured), an opposition stalwart, was “invalid, null and void”. The vote, it said, had not been conducted in accordance with the constitution—so it must be redone.
As a display of judicial independence, the court’s decision is without precedent, not just in Kenya but across Africa, where it was widely acclaimed. It represents an opportunity—so optimists believe—to build genuine trust in the country’s institutions, especially its highest courts. Yet it also plunges east Africa’s biggest economy back