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.

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"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truckloads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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500: Fuel shortages in conflict-ridden Haiti are putting many hospital patients at risk. If fuel isn't delivered ASAP, UNICEF says around 500 people – including children and COVID patients – are at very high risk of deterioration. Supplies and deliveries have been disrupted for weeks because of heightened gang activity in the country.

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Sort of, but governments haven't lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers "so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy." On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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