BLOWBACK BLASTS: ZIMBABWE AND ETHIOPIA

BLOWBACK BLASTS: ZIMBABWE AND ETHIOPIA

Both men took power only recently. Both come from within the broken authoritarian systems they promise to fix. And both — Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (pictured above) — were apparently targeted for death last weekend.


In Zimbabwe, a bomb exploded inches from Mr. Mnangagwa during a campaign rally. “It is not my time,” he said. (We’ve written backgrounders hereand here on Mnangagwa, nicknamed the Crocodile, who once survived attempted assassination by ice cream.)

Who did it? Ahead of what could be Zimbabwe’s first remotely fair elections in decades, the field of suspects is wide. Some within the ruling ZANU-PF party hate Mnangagwa because he toppled long-serving strongman Robert Mugabe last November — and because he’s pledged to open the system in ways that threaten them. Opposition supporters hate him because he was once Mugabe’s enforcer, the head of his ruthless security service. The attack on Mnangagwa took place in the city of Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold, but the near miss suggests it might have been an inside job.

In Ethiopia, someone lobbed a grenade at Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as he addressed tens of thousands at a rally in Addis Ababa in support of his reform plans. Two were killed and more than one hundred injured.

The youthful Mr. Abiy took power in April after months of riots against government repression left hundreds dead. Since then, Abiy has lifted a state of emergency, begun a nationwide listening tour to ease ethnic tensions, released thousands of political prisoners, pledged to privatize struggling state companies, and signaled agreement on a long-frozen deal to formally end the war with neighboring Eritrea.

It’s still more talk than action, but the promises themselves are big news in one of Africa’s most historically repressive regimes.

Now, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia sit 2,500 miles apart. They are very different countries with different strengths, burdens, and political histories. But they have this in common: each has a new leader who promises big changes to a deeply entrenched authoritarian system. And each man has enemies who want to see him dead.

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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...

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