Democracy and Information

There is no democracy without a source of information in which a strong majority can have confidence. Here are two stories from this week that illustrate the point.


Just hours ago, Emmerson Mnangagwa of the governing Zanu-PF party was declared the winner of Monday’s hotly disputed presidential election in Zimbabwe. Trouble began early in the week when opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, confident the vote was rigged against him, took to Twitter to declare victory. His words triggered street celebrations that were met with force by police.

Social media accounts, many of them fake, have added to the confusion with competing claims about what’s happening. Vote counts for parliamentary elections favored the ruling ZANU-PF, provoking outrage from its critics. But results of Monday’s presidential election were delayed until the very early hours of Friday morning, raising doubts about the credibility of the entire process. African and Western election observers have disagreed about the scale of irregularities and the extent of unfair treatment of the opposition. Chamisa vows to challenge the results in court.

In a situation like this, how can voters have confidence in the information they hear? The ruling party has stolen elections many times before. The opposition claimed victory without hard evidence to back the claim. It’s impossible to separate fact from fiction online, and outsiders can’t agree on what to say.

Meanwhile, Facebook is back in the news this week, with an announcement it discovered 32 false pages and profiles that were created as part of a sophisticated disinformation campaign ahead of US midterm elections in November. Posts and ads centered on topics like race, feminism and fascism. In this case, the content was reportedly created to generate anger toward President Trump.

Facebook says there is already information linking the campaign to the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed organization that sowed confusion on its platform before the 2016 US presidential election. The real concern according to Facebook is that those responsible have gotten much better over the past two years at camouflaging themselves.

That raises two big questions: If this is what Facebook has found, what hasn’t it found? And what about Twitter, Google, and others?

The bottom line: Access to reliable information is now a critical issue in democracies of all shapes and sizes.

The Business and Market Fair that recently took place in Sanzule, Ghana featured local crops, livestock and manufactured goods, thanks in part to the Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP), one of Eni's initiatives to diversify the local economy. The LRP program provided training and support to start new businesses to approximately 1,400 people from 205 households, invigorating entrepreneurship in the community.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Russia's Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky sat down yesterday with Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron for a meeting in the Elysée Palace in Paris for peace talks. This was the first-ever meeting between Putin, Russia's dominant political force since 2000, and Zelensky, who was a TV comedian at this time last year.

Not much was agreed beyond a broader exchange of prisoners and a renewed commitment to a ceasefire that has never held. Fears that Putin would use Zelensky's inexperience to back him into a deal on Russian terms weren't realized, but the relationship between the two has only just begun.

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The UK currently benefits from EU trade pacts covering more than 70 countries. But if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal in place, London could lose its preferential access to those markets. In preparation for such a scenario, the UK has signed 20 "continuity" agreements, allowing countries to keep trading with the UK under current rules even after Brexit. Here's a look at which countries and blocs have signed these deals with the UK, and the total value of each trade relationship.

Macron not backing down over pensions – Despite six days of mass unrest that has paralyzed Paris' public transport system and dented both tourism and Christmas retail, the government will stand firm on a proposal to reform and unify the country's 42 different pension plans. France's pension system, one of the most generous of any major industrialized country, has major budget shortfalls that contribute to the country's ballooning deficit. Last year, Macron abandoned a proposed fuel price hike that ignited the Yellow Vest movement. But overhauling France's "welfare state" was central to his 2017 election platform, and acquiescing to protesters this time around would be political suicide. France's prime minister – tapped to lead the pension reform project – is expected to announce the plan's final details tomorrow. We're watching to see how this might escalate things further.

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