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‘Free And Fair’: US Hails Gambian Elections After Barrow’s Win

The United States has given its approval to The Gambia’s presidential elections, hailing the victory of incumbent Adama Barrow after a ballot in which it said observers noted only “minor” irregularities.

“Gambians cast their votes with a turnout of nearly 90 percent of registered voters in a free and fair presidential election that was held peacefully,” the US State Department said in a statement seen Wednesday.

Last Saturday’s elections in the fledgling democracy have been closely followed in West Africa and beyond.

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Barrow was seeking re-election after a five-year term that brought the curtain down on 22 years of dictatorship under Yahya Jammeh.

According to official results, the former property developer notched up 53 percent of the ballot, far ahead of political veteran Ousainou Darboe’s 27.7 percent. Turnout was 87 percent of the electorate.

But Darboe and two other defeated candidates have contested the results, spurring concerns about a post-election rift, although he has also called for calm and told his supporters to reject violence.

 

The American statement said, “the United States Embassy and other observers noted some minor procedural irregularities, as well as the need for broader structural reforms to the electoral processes, which are contained in stalled constitutional and electoral reform legislation.”

It called for any grievances to be addressed “through the established dispute resolution process” and for the outcome of this to be respected.

It also urged Barrow to press ahead with the “many reform efforts” he had promised in 2016 when his surprise election victory led to Jammeh’s ouster and eventual departure to Equatorial Guinea.

These include an overhaul of the current constitution, dating from 1997, which does not set presidential term limits, and on accountability for crimes committed under the Jammeh era.

Barrow on Tuesday promised to set term limits and for presidents to be elected by an absolute majority rather than through the current first-past-the-post system.

But he fell short of a commitment to follow the recommendations of a newly-published report by a truth and reconciliation commission probing Jammeh-era crimes.

In a preliminary report, the European Union’s observer mission said The Gambia had made “democratic headway” in the elections, as shown by “wide voter participation and citizen engagement.”

But it added there were “critical gaps, restrictions, and legal uncertainties that require significant reform.”

AFP

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vladimir Putin: What Russian president’s India visit means for world politics

Visits by Russian presidents to India always invoke a sense of nostalgia. The Moscow-Delhi relationship dates back to the Cold War era and it has been strong ever since.

This “all-weather” partnership is one of the success stories of global diplomacy, and a high mark for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to live up to when they meet in Delhi on Monday.

But beyond the big-ticket defence deals, trade announcements, handshakes and Mr Modi’s trademark hugs, the two countries will also have to overcome serious challenges.

And that is largely down to the different geopolitical choices the two countries have made in recent months and years. How they solve these issues will influence regional, and global politics.

India-US ties, and the China factor

Growing India-US relations is one irritant that has loomed large over Delhi-Moscow ties, more so in the past decade. Mr Modi even held a big rally for Donald Trump in 2020 when he visited India. It was a vibrant show of support for Washington.

Moscow largely overlooked such irritants even though its own relations with Washington steadily deteriorated in recent years. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov chose to speak openly when India joined the Quad – an alliance involving the US, Japan and Australia. The group said the Quad was a non-military alliance and wasn’t aimed at a specific country, but Mr Lavrov didn’t seem to agree.

He said the West was “trying to engage India in anti-China games by promoting Indo-Pacific strategies”. Former Indian diplomat Anil Trigunayat, who served in Moscow, says that the Quad is a red line for Russia and this will most definitely be part of the discussions between the two leaders.

 

Moscow’s worries about the Quad can be understood from its growing relations with Beijing in recent years. Mr Trigunayat adds that Russia has been compelled to forge closer ties with China to secure its economic and geopolitical interests in Asia as the US-led West also seeks to dominate the region.

China’s deteriorating ties with the US also appear to have pushed Beijing and Moscow closer.

What complicates the matter further is that India-China relations have been recently tense – troops from the two countries fought a deadly clash in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley with clubs and stones which left 20 Indian soldiers dead. China later accepted that some of its soldiers also died in the clashes.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director at the Wilson Center think-tank in Washington, says the new geopolitical realities pose a “potential threat to the India-Russia relationship”.

In this context, Mr Putin’s visit is important to uphold the special relationship. “I think for Russia, the objective in this case, is to reinforce the importance of Moscow’s relations with New Delhi, even as the geopolitical signposts suggest otherwise,” Mr Kugelman adds.

But analysts, including Mr Kugleman and Mr Trigunayat, feel that the foundations of the relationship between the two countries are strong enough to address each other’s concerns.

The countries have several areas where they can and will look to cooperate – Afghanistan is one of them.

It will most definitely be part of the discussion as Delhi tries to stay relevant in Afghanistan. Pakistan, India’s neighbour and archrival, now has better strategic depth in Afghanistan as it appears to have formed an informal alliance with Russia, Iran and China.

Moscow can help Delhi recover the lost ground in Afghanistan as the two have shared concerns about the future of the country.

“Both Russia and India are wary of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, and the potential for terrorism coming out of Afghanistan and impacting their countries, So, Afghanistan really is an area of strong agreements between New Delhi and Moscow,” says Derek Grossman, senior defence analyst at the US-based RAND Corporation think-tank.

India and Russia are already partners in several multinational forums like Brics (also involves Brazil, China, South Africa), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (also involves China, Pakistan and Central Asian countries) and the RIC (Russia, India and China).

These forums give an opportunity to Moscow and Delhi to work together closely on both bilateral and global issues. And given China is a member in these forums, Moscow can use its influence, even if it’s not done publicly, to ensure both Beijing and Delhi continue to engage with each other to maintain peace at their disputed border.

Trade and defence

The showpiece of the visit is likely to be the delivery of the Russia-made S-400 missile defence system to India. It’s is one of the most sophisticated surface-to-air defence systems in the world. It has a range of 400km (248 miles) and can shoot down up to 80 targets simultaneously, aiming two missiles at each one.

The system gives India crucial strategic deterrence against China and Pakistan, and that is the reason why it went ahead with the order despite threats of US sanctions.

Washington has put several Russian firms under sanctions. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (Caatsa) was introduced in 2017 to target Russia, Iran and North Korea with economic and political sanctions. It also prohibits any country from signing defence deals with these nations. While the deal may create tensions between the US and India, Moscow appears to be satisfied with Delhi’s stand.

It will be interesting to see how India balances ties with the two superpowers under the shadow of the S-400 deal. Indian diplomats feel the decision to buy S-400 also upholds India’s famed practice of “strategic autonomy”, adding that the US should respect that. Mr Trigunayat adds that India’s large defence budget also gives it strategic advantage. “Most global relationships are transactional and it’s true for Moscow and Delhi as well,” he adds.

India is the world’s second largest arms importer, accounting for about 10% of global defence trade, according to a report by the defence think-tank Sipri. Moscow continues to be India’s largest arms supplier even though its share has dropped to 49% from 70% due to India’s decision to diversify its portfolio and boost domestic defence manufacturing.

The US was India’s second-largest supplier between 2011 and 2015 after Russia but it fell behind France and Israel in the period between 2016 and 2021. Washington would want to do better and analysts say that gives India leverage.

Russia will also try to boost its defence export to India and some major deals could be announced on Monday. However, commercial trade between the two countries has remained far below their potential. Bilateral trade in 2019 (pre-pandemic levels) stood at $11bn and it was skewed in Russia’s favour as it exported goods and services worth $7.24bn, according to a report from the Indian government. In comparison, India-US bilateral goods and services trade stood at $146bn in the same period.

Russia and India have now set a target of reaching $30bn in bilateral trade by the end of 2025. They will look to diversify their portfolio and go beyond energy and minerals. Education, cyber security, agriculture, railways, pharmaceuticals, and clean energy are some of the other areas they are likely to focus on.

India’s decision to give $1bn line of credit to businesses to invest in Russia’s Far East region will also help boost trade between the countries. Talks are also expected on the proposed Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor. The route will open more business frontiers.

Talks over a free trade agreement between India and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union are also likely to progress. If the deal happens, it will help businesses move goods easily between the two regions.

“As long as trade, defence deals stay relevant, the two nations will find a way to sort out their geopolitics differences,” Mr Kugelman adds.

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Vietnam Police Smash $3.8bn Cryptocurrency Ring

Vietnamese police have smashed a huge cryptocurrency ring worth around $3.8 billion, state media said Friday, as authorities battle rampant illegal gambling in the country.

Fifty-nine people were detained in southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City, accused of luring players through social media to place bets online, according to the city police’s official newspaper.

The gambling ring is reportedly the biggest ever uncovered by Vietnamese police.

State media said players were instructed to buy a cryptocurrency wallet and convert their money into one of two digital currencies, Ethereum or USDT — also known as Tether — before placing bets on Swiftonline.live and Nagaclubs.com.

To entice new players, the detainees posted pictures on social networks showing off their fancy cars, expensive houses, and extravagant parties.

To sway the more cautious, scammers also offered players insurance packages, with the promise of a refund if they did not win after six games.

However, during periods when there were a large number of players, the ring leaders crashed the websites in order to steal money from the digital wallets and avoid detection by police.

Officers confiscated 55 laptops and desktops, 39 mobile phones, and seven luxury cars from the gang in Ho Chi Minh City.

State media said the gang had also established large-scale gambling networks in many other provinces and cities across the country.

Vietnam’s communist government has started loosening its grip on domestic gambling, allowing Vietnamese to bet in casinos and opening up some sports betting.

But online gambling and private card rooms remain banned.

Still, despite regular crackdowns on illegal gambling, rings run by both locals and foreigners continue to flourish.

Last year police uncovered a massive online card ring with revenues estimated at $2.6 billion.

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US School Shooting: Fourth Student Dies As Suspect Surrenders To Police

The death toll in the latest US school shooting rose to four Wednesday after a 17-year-old student died from his wounds in the attack at a Michigan high school, local police said.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s office said in a statement that Justin Shilling, who was a student at Oxford High School in the rural town of Oxford, Michigan, succumbed to his wounds in the attack.

Police on Tuesday said that a 15-year-old male student opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun in the high school, shooting at least 30 rounds that have now left four students dead and six students and one teacher wounded.

There was no immediate explanation for the attack, which sent panic through the 1,800 students at the school, according to police.

The shooter used a nine-millimeter Sig Sauer pistol that his father bought for him on November 26, the day after Thanksgiving known as “Black Friday” for massive sales put on by stores nationwide to launch the Christmas gift-shopping period, the police said.

The suspect, a second-year student, apparently brought the gun into school with a backpack and multiple ammunition magazines.

He surrendered to police in the hallway of the school, with several rounds still in the gun, they said.

Police said they had searched the home of the suspect. “This is expected to be a lengthy investigation and hundreds of interviews will be conducted,” they said in a statement.

AFP

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Iranian Forces, Taliban Exchange Fire At Border

An exchange of fire erupted Wednesday between Iranian forces and Afghanistan’s Taliban at Iran’s eastern border, local media reported.

“A clash erupted in the afternoon between Iranian border guards and the Taliban following a misunderstanding at the border near the (Afghan) province of Nimroz,” Iran’s Tasnim news agency said.

Iran, which shares a 900 kilometre (560 mile) border with Afghanistan, does not recognise the Taliban government formed after the insurgents seized the capital Kabul in August.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said a “border dispute between residents” of the area had triggered the incident, without referring to the Taliban.

“The situation has been resolved. Shooting stopped after contact between border guards of the two countries,” he said in a statement.

Tasnim reported that “Iranian farmers passed beyond the protective walls erected within Iran, and the Taliban reacted by deeming that their border had been breached”.

The Taliban opened fire and Iranian forces responded, it said.

In late October, Tehran called on the Taliban to adopt a “friendly” approach towards their neighbours, in a meeting of six of countries that share borders with Afghanistan.

Iran has appeared to edge towards a pragmatic rapprochement with the hard-line Sunni Islamist group in recent months.

AFP

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Midsized mayhem: Why medium-sized autocracies are projecting more hard power abroad

Talk about geopolitics and people think of great-power rivalry: America v the Soviet Union or, more recently, China. Fair enough. Great powers are, as the name suggests, important. But as America retreats from its role as globocop, it has opened space for medium-sized powers to become more assertive.

Turkey has occupied a chunk of Syria, sent troops to Libya, helped Azerbaijan vanquish Armenia and dispatched its navy in support of dubious claims to Mediterranean waters. Iran backs militias that prop up Syria’s despot, have a chokehold on Lebanon and were accused this month of trying to murder Iraq’s prime minister with an explosives-laden drone. Pakistan helped a group of misogynistic jihadists take over Afghanistan. Belarus hijacked a plane and has been giving migrants bolt-cutters and ordering them to cut through Poland’s border fence. Cuba trains Venezuelan spooks. Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen. Medium-sized menaces are on the march. They are making the world more confusing and more dangerous.

Turkey has occupied a chunk of Syria, sent troops to Libya, helped Azerbaijan vanquish Armenia and dispatched its navy in support of dubious claims to Mediterranean waters. Iran backs militias that prop up Syria’s despot, have a chokehold on Lebanon and were accused this month of trying to murder Iraq’s prime minister with an explosives-laden drone. Pakistan helped a group of misogynistic jihadists take over Afghanistan. Belarus hijacked a plane and has been giving migrants bolt-cutters and ordering them to cut through Poland’s border fence. Cuba trains Venezuelan spooks. Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen. Medium-sized menaces are on the march. They are making the world more confusing and more dangerous.

The leaders of such countries do not all have a free hand. Belarus’s dictator has lately become a Russian puppet; Pakistan is hugely in debt to China; everyone is wary of direct military confrontation with America. But for the most part they are pursuing their own agendas, not those of a great-power sponsor. They are promoting what they see as their national interests or, in many cases, their own selfish ones.

Some have national-security concerns. Turkey wanted a buffer zone in Syria to stop Kurdish fighters setting up bases near its border. Pakistan was afraid of Indian influence in Afghanistan. Egypt is meddling in Libya because it wants to avoid chaos there. But other less respectable motives are also common.

Some leaders, mostly autocrats, are venturing abroad to distract attention from their dire record at home. Turkey’s president has presided over economic blight and political repression, but Turks cheer his artfully televised military victories. Likewise, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Pakistan all hide their failings behind a vigorously waved national flag.

 

Profit plays a role, too. Some leaders offer arms and loans to war-scorched countries on the understanding that their own firms will be first in line for contracts to rebuild them. The financial beneficiaries are often the leader’s cronies, not his people.

A final motive, and perhaps the most important, is that autocrats tend to support other autocrats. Cuba’s mambo-dancing Marxist rulers have little in common with Iran’s austere mullahs, but they all support Venezuela. Regimes under American sanctions trade with each other to survive. Despots swap tips on how to crush democrats and coup plots. Sometimes, all these motives are combined. An autocrat may send troops to help another autocrat, dress it up as a patriotic war, and win construction deals later that oil his patronage machine.

The results have been catastrophic. In Venezuela medium-sized menaces have propped up a regime under President Nicolás Maduro so corrupt and inept that the economy has shrunk by 75%. In Ethiopia arms and cash from medium-sized meddlers gave its prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, the confidence to wage all-out war on domestic rebels, causing tens of thousands of deaths and forcing millions to flee their homes. All around the world, the fraying of American deterrence and the American security guarantee are prompting neighbours to look more fearfully at their traditional foes, and to re-arm.

None of this is good for global stability. The world would be safer if America were more engaged, not less. But that is for a different leader: this one is addressed to the medium-sized meddlers themselves. Each case is different, but most of these newly assertive countries will find that the costs of adventurism outweigh the benefits. Wielding hard power is expensive, and hard to do effectively.

Turkey has gained swagger and territory, but alienated nearly all its allies. Saudi Arabia is stuck in a quagmire in Yemen. The uae’s missions failed not only in Yemen but in Libya, too. Pakistani colonels gloated over President Joe Biden’s hasty retreat from Afghanistan. The Taliban are friendly with Pakistan and hostile to India. But Kabul’s new rulers have no idea how to govern. Afghanistan is in economic meltdown and their ruthless, exclusive approach could provoke another war on Pakistan’s doorstep.

The men who run all these countries no doubt see things differently. Autocrats love having an external enemy, and sometimes believe their own propaganda. So they will keep up their military meddling. But they will often blunder, as even great powers do, and in the end this may bring them down. ■

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Mali Indefinitely Delays Forum Seen As Key To Returning To Civilian Rule

Mali on Tuesday said that it would delay a nationwide debate on reform that the army-dominated government views as a precondition for returning to civilian rule after two coups

The “national forum of rebuilding” was due to kick off in December in the conflict-torn Sahel state.

Mali’s interim government is facing international pressure to swiftly restore civilian rule after the military seized power in August 2020, and then deposed another civilian-led government in May.

It previously said that it would set a date for elections only after holding the nationwide forum.

Buton  Tuesday, the panel set up to organise the forum announced an indefinite delay.

Without specifying details, it stated that it had decided to postpone due to consultations designed to guarantee “inclusive participation” in the forum.

“A new timetable will be announced at the end of these consultations,” the panel said.

After seizing power, Mali’s military strongman Colonel Assimi Goita pledged to hold elections in February 2022.

But many view the timetable with scepticism, with the government slow to make preparations, and with jihadist violence leaving swathes of Mali outside of government control.

Amid mounting calls to restore civilian rule from the UN and West Africa bloc ECOWAS, Mali’s interim prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said in September that the government would fix an election date after holding a nationwide forum on what changes are needed.

He also warned at the time that organising peaceful elections took priority over speed.

Mali has been struggling to control a brutal jihadist insurgency that first emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

AFP

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Putin To Host Armenia, Azerbaijan Leaders As Fighting Renews

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan this week, days after some of the worst fighting between the Caucasus foes since last year’s war over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kremlin said Tuesday.

Putin will hold talks with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday.

The trio will meet on Putin’s initiative, the Kremlin said in a statement.

The Kremlin said the talks are “timed to coincide” with the anniversary of a Russian-mediated ceasefire, signed in November last year, that ended six weeks of fighting over the long-disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The deal saw Armenia cede swathes of territory it had controlled for decades.

The Kremlin said the leaders will discuss “outlining further steps to strengthen stability and establish peace in the region.”

Earlier this month, clashes broke out on the shared border between Armenia and Azerbaijan with both sides reporting casualties and blaming each other for the fighting.

Russia stepped in to mediate, with Moscow’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu negotiating a truce.

Later on Tuesday, Pashinyan told an online press conference that talks in Sochi should, among other issues, address “Azerbaijan’s behaviour”.

“Azerbaijan is demonstrating constant aggressive policies towards Armenia. What Azerbaijan is doing is an attack on Armenia,” Pashinyan said in a live video on his Facebook page.

Pashinyan, however, confirmed his “readiness” to meet Aliyev on the sidelines of the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on December 15.

“I think that our communication should be more frequent, so we can find ways of solving problems and avoiding crisis situations,” Pashinyan said.

He said they will discuss “humanitarian questions”, including the exchange of war prisoners, but warned against expecting “fast results”.

Pashinyan and Aliyev last met in January in the Russian capital.

Last year’s war claimed the lives of more than 6,500 people.

 

AFP

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Poor Diets Imperilling People And The Planet – Report

Nearly half the world’s population suffer from poor nutrition linked to too much or not enough food, a global assessment said Tuesday with wide-ranging impacts on health and the planet.

The Global Nutrition Report (GNR), a yearly survey and analysis of the latest data on nutrition and related health issues, found that 48 percent of people currently eat either too little or too much — resulting in them being overweight, obese or underweight.

At current rates, the report finds, the world will fail to meet eight out of nine nutrition targets set by the World Health Organization for 2025.

These include reducing child wasting (when children are too thin for their height) and child stunting (when they are too short for their age), and also adult obesity.

The report estimates nearly 150 million children under five years old are stunted, more than 45 million are wasted and nearly 40 million are overweight.

It also finds more than 40 percent of adults (2.2 billion people) are now overweight or obese.

“Avoidable deaths due to poor diets have grown by 15 percent since 2010 and poor diets are now responsible for a quarter of all adult deaths,” Chair of the GNR’s Independent Expert Group Renata Micha told AFP.

“Our global findings show that our diets have not improved over the last ten years and are now a major threat to people’s health and to the planet.”

– Foods matter –

This year’s GNR is the first to look at global diets and how food choices are affecting people and the planet.

It finds people are failing to consume enough health-promoting foods like fruits and vegetables, particularly in lower-income countries.

Higher-income countries had the highest intake of foods with harmful health impacts like red meat, dairy and sugary drinks.

Consumption of harmful foods is on the rise, the report found, with red and processed meat already at almost five times the maximum recommendation of one serving a week.

The report notes that current global nutrition targets do not mention diet, with the exception of limiting sodium, and recommends new, more holistic targets.

“The science supports a food-based approach or diet-pattern approach in assessing the impacts on health and the environment,” Micha said.

In line with other estimates, the GNR calculated global food demand generated some 35 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.

“Animal-source foods have generally higher environmental footprints per product than plant-based foods,” the report said.

“Consequently, they were responsible for the majority of food-related greenhouse gas emissions and land use, with particularly large impacts from beef, lamb and dairy.”

The report called for urgent funding to improve nutrition across the globe, particularly as Covid-19 has pushed an estimated additional 155 million people into extreme poverty.

The GNR estimates the nutrition spending will need to increase by nearly $4 billion annually until 2030 to meet stunting, wasting, maternal anaemia and breastfeeding targets alone.

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America’s Catholic schools are seeing a surprising rise in enrolment

America’s Catholic schools are seeing a surprising rise in enrolment

“I never envisioned sending my children to a Catholic school. I have a good public school down the block from my house,” says Laura Camisa, mother of two girls aged five and seven. She and her family live in an expensive Brooklyn neighbourhood in a high-performing school district. Ms Camisa’s older daughter was in kindergarten when schools shut down in 2020 because of the pandemic. Remote learning was difficult for her daughter. Once happy and outgoing, she became withdrawn. “This is not working”, Ms Camisa remembers saying to herself. After hearing good things about St Joseph the Worker, a nearby Catholic school, she decided to send her children there.

The Camisas are one of thousands of families newly enrolled in Catholic schools. Falls in pupil numbers of a couple of percentage points a year had been the norm for years. The number had fallen from a peak in the early 1960s, when Catholic schools had 5.2m pupils, to around 1.6m last year, which meant a lot of empty desks. But this autumn dioceses all over the country are seeing increases in enrolments. The National Catholic Educational Association is still collecting and analysing the latest pupil data, but its preliminary numbers show increases in most dioceses.

The Brooklyn-Queens diocese in New York, one of the biggest in the country, saw increases for the first time in a decade or more. Nearly 60% of its schools are growing, with many increasing by 10%. Partnership Schools, a network of Catholic schools in New York City and in Cleveland, saw a 16% increase. The diocese of Springfield, in Massachusetts, is up by 13%. Arlington’s diocese, which takes in the suburbs of Washington, dc, increased by 6%. The Archdiocese of Baltimore, the county’s oldest, saw a similar increase. Chicago’s archdiocese, which includes some suburbs, saw a 5% increase. Enrolment increased by nearly 4% in Catholic elementary schools in Philadelphia’s archdiocese.

Why are Catholic schools suddenly growing? Last autumn many public-school systems delayed reopening and did not offer full-time in-class learning. When Catholic schools reopened, most provided in-person learning. This appealed to families who struggled with remote learning—many of the new pupils are children whose parents cannot work from home. Most Catholic schools had plenty of space to socially distance: those empty classrooms came in very handy.

Families took note, including non-Catholics. In 1970 only 2.7% of the pupil population was non-Catholic. Last year it was one in five. In some dioceses it neared two in five. Kathleen Porter-Magee, superintendent of Partnership Schools, says the children in her Cleveland schools are nearly all non-Catholic: “We like to quote the late Cardinal Hickey of the Archdiocese of Washington who said, ‘We educate our communities, not because they are Catholic, but because we are’.”

Catholic superintendents and enrolment directors are giddy about the increase. Mary Pat Donoghue of America’s Conference of Catholic Bishops hopes it will stabilise the pupil population. Father Joe Corpora of the University of Notre Dame warns: “We’ll never get another chance like this again.” Some dioceses and schools are working on retention and marketing plans, a first for many.

Catholic schools are not cheap. Tuition averages $4,800 a year for elementary schools and high school costs more than $11,000. Historically, parishioners helped offset tuition costs with what they put in the offertory basket. But as fewer people went to church, that funding stream decreased. The many sexual-abuse scandals have also hurt enrolment. Charter schools, which share some of the attributes of Catholic ones (uniforms, discipline, community values) also drew prospective pupils away from Catholic schools. It is hard to compete with free.

Even so, many families are willing to pay. Ms Camisa and her husband have had to rejig their finances to afford tuition. “We moved [schools] because of the pandemic, but we stayed because of what we saw at St Joe’s.” When public schools restored in-person learning, she did not return. “We’ll probably stay Catholic the whole way to high school.” ■

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