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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

More Show less

In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

More Show less

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

More Show less

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

More Show less

Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal