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An African Chain Reaction

An African Chain Reaction

It's hard to imagine a story that involves more of the troubles plaguing international politics than the one now generating headlines across Africa. It started Sunday, when local media reported that South Africans had looted and destroyed dozens of foreign-owned shops in Johannesburg. More attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday reportedly killed at least seven people.


South Africa is burdened with a stagnant economy and sky-high youth unemployment. By some measures, it's also the most unequal society on Earth. But it's also a magnet for migrants from other African countries because the size of its economy promises more opportunities for decent-paying work than can be found at home.

The UN says that four million foreigners live in South Africa. A few South Africans, infuriated by a lack of opportunity, have decided that foreign migrants are stealing their jobs. They have threatened, then attacked them.

This is a problem that's existed for many years, but this week brought a new and troubling twist: In an age of social media, it didn't take long for word of the violence to reach Nigeria, home country for tens of thousands of migrant workers living in South Africa. Photos and videos began appearing in Nigerian social media that claim to depict Nigerians being attacked and murdered.

Much of this material is either fake or older images misrepresented as new, but Nigerians have already retaliated. Protesters in Nigeria have gone after South African-owned companies and the group that represents university students across Nigeria has formally demanded that all these businesses be shuttered, a decision that would inflict substantial economic damage on both countries.

Nigerian officials have tried to clear the air. The country's foreign minister has said that while it appears Nigerian businesses in South Africa have been looted, Nigerian citizens have not been attacked. "There are a lot of stories going around of Nigerians being killed, jumping off buildings and being burnt. This is not the case," he told reporters on Wednesday. No Nigerians have been confirmed among those killed this week, though Nigerians have been murdered in South Africa in the past.

So far, the clarification hasn't helped. On Tuesday, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said, "there can be no justification for any South African to attack people from other countries," but his government has closed diplomatic missions in the Nigerian cities of Abuja and Lagos following threats made against staff. The reports of violence in South Africa have also inflamed tensions in Kenya, Mozambique, and other countries in the region.

The broader story – Tally it up: economic angst, migrants, violence against foreigners, fake news that distorts public perception, protests that take on a life of their own, economic pressure, and rising tension among governments anxious to appease public demand for action.

In years to come, it's not hard to imagine this ugly, largely spontaneous confluence of factors triggering storms far beyond Africa. In any region of the world.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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In the fall of 2019, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would change the world, Ian Bremmer asked Dr. Fauci what kept him up at night and he described a "a pandemic-like respiratory infection." Fast-forward to late February 2021 and Dr. Fauci tells Ian, "I think we are living through much of that worst nightmare." Dr. Fauci returns to GZERO World to take stock of the nightmare year and to paint a picture of what the end of the pandemic could look like—and when it could finally arrive.

Catch the full episode of GZERO World, where Dr. Fauci discusses the latest in vaccine roll out, schools re-openings, and plenty more, on US public television stations nationwide, beginning Friday, February 26. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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