Weekly Briefing

DRC: rapes

On 23 August, less than two months after the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence, the UN confirmed it was investigating claims that rebel fighters had gang-raped nearly 200 women and several young boys in the volatile North Kivu Province in late July.

The perpetrators are thought to be insurgents loyal to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, ethnic Hutu fighters linked to Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Mass rape is a routine weapon of subjugation: warring factions raped an estimated 8,000 women in North and South Kivu alone last year. July's victims are receiving medical and psychological care; but the country has a problem that needs to be treated.

Nepal: presidency

When the Nepali prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, resigned in June, the idea was to create a new power-sharing government, giving both the Communist Party and its opposition, the Nepali Congress Party, a say in the country's leadership. Instead, Nepal has now been without a leader for three months. And following a fifth unsuccessful round of voting on 23 August - at which so many of Nepal's 600 parliamentarians returned a
“no vote" response that even the prime ministerial front-runner, the Communists' Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was 55 votes short of a majority - the deadlock is likely to continue for now.

The country's president, Ram Baran Yadav, not unreasonably, has said that he is "deeply concerned". But perhaps it will be sixth time lucky: a parliamentary vote is expected to be called again in September.

Niger: cholera

The floods that soaked Niger this month may have been less dramatic than those in Pakistan or China, but more than 100,000 people have been left homeless. Niger didn't really need any more to deal with, after droughts earlier this year caused crops to fail and left an estimated seven million people hungry.

Now, excessive rains have left nearly eight million without food and the World Food Programme has announced that it can only help 40 per cent of those in need, thanks to a shortfall in funding. To make matters worse, cholera is spreading across West Africa: 240 people have become ill in Niger, while Cameroon and Nigeria have been even worse hit by the waterborne disease. Already one of the world's poorest countries, Niger is steeling itself for further flooding.

Greenland: oil

After years of speculation, the likelihood of finding oil off Greenland's shores has become that bit more likely. The Scottish firm Cairn Energy has been drilling in Baffin Bay since July, and was no doubt thrilled to tell investors that small quantities of gas had been found in the sand, indicating that oil may be present.

Others have been less pleased - Greenpeace activists in particular, who described it as a "grave threat to the fragile Arctic environment", arguing that this takes us one step back in the fight against climate change, and calling on Cairn to provide a comprehensive plan showing how it would deal with an oil spill.

US: do-gooders

Shocking news from Washington State University: people find do-gooders really annoying.

“It's not hard to find examples," admits Craig Parks, who led the research. "But we were the first to show this happens and have explanations for why." The discovery? People don't like to look bad, even if someone else's virtue leaves them better off. Park's guinea pigs viewed generous souls as rule-breakers with ulterior motives. Surprising? No. Depressing? A little bit. But Parks is an optimist. Next he wants to tackle whether social exclusion gets good people down, or whether they may actually try even harder.

This article first appeared in the 30 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Face off