Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.
Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.
How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.
Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.
The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.
<p>Large numbers of people looked up the word<strong> "<a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/defund" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Defund</a>"</strong> in 2020 to understand what many US protesters were chanting about this summer. Calls to "defund the police" erupted following the police killing of <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52861726" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">George Floyd</a>, but many voters were confused about whether it meant stripping police of all funding or simply diverting some of the police budget toward mental health services and community development projects. Former president Barack Obama opined this week that calls to "defund the police" had "<a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/02/politics/barack-obama-defund-the-police/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">lost a big audience</a>," costing Democrats at the ballot box last month. </p><p>Searches for the word <strong>"<a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/icon" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Icon</a>" </strong>spiked following the deaths of Congressman <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/17/politics/john-lewis-dead-at-80/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">John Lewis</a> in July and Supreme Court Justice <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/18/100306972/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-champion-of-gender-equality-dies-at-87" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Ruth Bader Ginsburg</a> in September. Lewis and Ginsburg are excellent examples of those whose achievements lift them beyond fame toward myth, and there were far too many similar losses in every country to list here. But COVID-19 also stole many an icon from within families around the world. </p><p>Merriam-Webster has included the word <strong>"<a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/irregardless" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Irregardless</a>" </strong>in every edition of its dictionary since 1934, but online searches for the word skyrocketed this year when actress <a href="https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/columnists/story/2020-11-14/star-upset-irregardless-has-invaded-the-dictionary" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Jamie Lee Curtis</a> said something provocative that we're just too lazy to investigate. Here's the deal: The correct word is "regardless." As in… "Regardless of its inclusion in Merriam Webster's dictionary, 'irregardless' is not a damn word." </p><p>Curiosity about the word<strong> "<a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kraken" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kraken</a>"</strong> rose suddenly in July when Seattle's professional hockey team took the name of this "fabulous Scandinavian sea monster." What better metaphor for 2020 than the unseen beast that threatens our lives and makes travel especially dangerous? Searches for this word spiked again in November when Trump campaign lawyer <a href="https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/meet-sidney-powell-the-conspiracy-minded-lawyer-who-vowed-to-release-the-kraken-in-election-suits" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Sidney Powell</a> promised to "release the kraken," evidence that proves the US presidential election was stolen from her client. Until a US court tells us otherwise, we'll assume that this particular mythical monster lives at the bottom of a lake in <a href="https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a34838373/sidney-powell-trump-lawsuit-edison-county-michigan/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Edison County, Michigan</a>. </p><p>Speaking of <strong>"<a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/malarkey" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Malarkey</a>,"</strong> that's a word meaning "insincere or foolish talk" that's become part of president-elect Joe Biden's "Regular Joe" political brand. Republicans say Democrats are the party of elites, and many voters agree. To avoid that label, Bill Clinton likes to talk about aging hound dogs, and Barack Obama sometimes launches into a bizarro Chicago/Hawaii-style <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLAy8aqSG7Y" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">southern accent</a> that makes us actual southerners suppress the giggles. Merriam-Webster is at its most amusing in listing <a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/malarkey" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">synonyms for malarkey</a>, and it's not hard to imagine Biden whipping out any of these folksy words. (Our favorites are blatherskite, fiddle-faddle, and tommyrot.) </p><p>The word<strong> "<a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quarantine" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Quarantine</a>"</strong> derives from a 14<sup>th</sup> century Italian word that describes the 40-day isolation of a ship entering port to protect those on shore from the risk of Bubonic Plague. In 2020, it took on the broader meaning of isolation, a trial suffered by those infected with the coronavirus and those who hoped to avoid it. But isolation and loneliness have taken a <a href="https://news.psu.edu/story/639100/2020/11/13/impact/covid-19-and-potential-costs-social-isolation" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">heavy toll</a> on mental and emotional health around the world this year. </p><p>Finally, there is <strong>"<a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/schadenfreude" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Schadenfreude</a>,"</strong> a German word meaning "enjoyment taken from the troubles of others." The world faced many an unexpected misfortune in 2020, and responses were often shaped by affiliation to political tribe rather than human empathy. Here's hoping for lighter burdens and a little more kindness in 2021.</p>
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December 04, 2020
While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.
December 03, 2020
Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.
<p><strong>The Venezuelan opposition's boycott gamble:</strong> On Sunday, Venezuela will hold legislative elections, but opponents of President <a href="https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20201102-maduro-looks-for-total-power-in-venezuela-legislative-election" target="_blank">Nicolas Maduro</a> who currently control the National Assembly are boycotting the vote, which is likely to be rigged anyway. As a result, they'll lose their majority in the Assembly and, with it, opposition leader Juan Guaidó's legal claim to the presidency, which is recognized by a number of other democracies in the region and globally. It seems like ages ago that Guaidó was leading mass protests against the economic incompetence and authoritarian drift of the Maduro regime — but since his heyday in 2019, momentum has sputtered, the opposition has <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/06/international-home/venezuela-elections-maduro.html" target="_blank">splintered,</a> and Maduro's security forces and cronies have stayed loyal despite crippling US sanctions. The opposition plans to hold its own referendum next week to reject the legitimacy of Maduro's government, which will provide a fig leaf for the US and others to continue to recognize Guaidó as president. But that will increasingly be a fiction once Maduro has full control over all branches of government. Meanwhile, ordinary Venezuelans continue to reel from an economic crisis, the pandemic, and sanctions. Small wonder that nearly two-thirds of them back <a href="https://efectococuyo.com/politica/datanalisis-mas-del-62-de-los-venezolanos-no-esta-ni-con-guaido-ni-con-maduro/" target="_blank">neither Guaidó nor Maduro at all</a> (source in Spanish.) </p> <p><strong>European Union vs illiberals:</strong> Mired in a budget crisis after Poland and Hungary vetoed the European Union's proposed pandemic economic recovery bill earlier this month, Brussels now says it will<a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/the-commission-proposes-eu-recovery-without-hungary-and-poland/?utm_source=dailybrief&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DailyBrief2020Dec3&utm_term=DailyNewsBrief" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> go ahead</a> with the 750-billion-euro fund whether Budapest and Warsaw cooperate or not. The two eastern European states balked after the EU included a provision that made disbursement of funds, that will fund the bloc through 2027, contingent on respecting EU rule-of-law norms. (Both states are led by <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/viktor-orban-era-of-liberal-democracy-is-over/a-43732540" target="_blank">illibera</a>l leaders who oft-<a href="https://apnews.com/article/andrzej-duda-poland-archive-warsaw-4905350bd92610427c12bfc4a58a1caa" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">flout </a>democratic norms and vehemently oppose the EU's conditionality.) While the EU technically requires unanimous consent to pass the financial package, EU president Ursula Von der Leyen implied this week that the bloc would use a<a href="https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM%3Axy0015" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> loophole</a> to pass it if the veto is not lifted when EU leaders meet in Brussels on December 10. Poland and Hungary, meanwhile, say that they aren't backing down and are waiting for a compromise from <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/poland-threatens-to-veto-eu-budget-in-call-to-merkel/a-55753615" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Germany</a> which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union until the end of the year. For now, the impasse continues. </p>
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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.
But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?
<p><strong>Weapons, hired guns, and access. </strong>Russia is now<a href="https://www.defenseworld.net/news/26576/Russian_Arms_Sales_Growing_in_Africa#.X8ceY6pKhBw" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> the largest arms supplier</a> in Africa, and it does a particularly brisk trade with governments that can't buy American or European weaponry. Two of Moscow's best new customers, for example, have been<a href="https://www.africanews.com/2019/04/06/russia-angola-sign-cooperation-deals-in-moscow/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> Angola</a> and Nigeria, both of which reached out to Russia when the Obama administration in the US started<a href="https://www.npr.org/2015/07/23/425654481/nigerian-president-u-s-refusal-to-provide-weapons-aides-extremism" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> blocking their arms purchases</a> over human rights concerns. Since 2015, Russia has inked arms deals with at least 20 African nations.</p><p>At the same time, Russia has been supplying a host of African governments either with mercenaries to help fight insurgents or with advisers to help crush their political opponents.</p> <p>The shadowy<a href="https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/07/08/putin-s-not-so-secret-mercenaries-patronage-geopolitics-and-wagner-group-pub-79442" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> Wagner Group</a> — a private military company believed to be owned by a Russian catering tycoon known as "Putin's chef"— has helped to battle an<a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/29/africa/russian-mercenaries-mozambique-intl/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> Islamic State rebellion in Mozambique</a>, and has been<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/30/world/russia-diamonds-africa-prigozhin.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> paid in diamonds</a> for crushing an uprising in the Central African Republic. The group is also active in Libya, where the Pentagon now<a href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/30/pentagon-trump-russia-libya-uae/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> thinks</a> it might be on the payroll of the UAE. In all, Wagner has ties to nearly a dozen African countries.</p><p><strong>What does Russia get in exchange? </strong>Cash, for one thing. But also influence over local decisions about who gets access to, say, lucrative mining projects. In Madagascar last year, Russian operatives staged a<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/11/world/africa/russia-madagascar-election.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> cartoonishly ham-fisted attempt</a> to meddle in the election — but just before the vote, "Putin's chef" got a big stake in a local chromium mine. Russian companies also have gotten<a href="https://www.mining.com/russias-comeback-in-africa-favours-profit-over-long-term-influence-analyst/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> access to key mining or energy projects</a> in Angola, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Mozambique, Sudan, and Zimbabwe – all countries where Kremlin-affiliated mercenaries or advisers are at work.</p><p><strong>Why now?</strong> Last fall, Putin hosted dozens of African leaders at a<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/putin-hosts-sochi-summit-as-russia-races-for-influence-in-africa/30231905.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> summit in Sochi</a>, billed as the Kremlin's triumphant return to the continent. And in many ways, the continent is now ripe for Russia to<a href="https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/10/16/late-to-party-russia-s-return-to-africa-pub-80056" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> make inroads there</a> without spending a lot of money or taking major risks.</p><p>Africa hasn't been a top priority for the US in recent years, and while China has lent billions to cash-strapped African governments, Beijing is also facing criticism that it has set debt traps for poor countries.</p><p>As a result, Russia has been welcomed in many parts of the continent as a no-nonsense transactional player who can deliver the muscle that governments need.</p><p><strong>Keep things in perspective.</strong> Russia's clout in Africa still lags far behind players like China and the EU – Africa's two largest trade partners – and the US, which has<a href="https://theintercept.com/2020/02/27/africa-us-military-bases-africom/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> nearly 30</a> military bases on the continent. </p><p>But Russia isn't really playing a game of scale on that level. Instead, the Kremlin is shrewdly seeking out discrete pressure points where, with minimal expenditure, it can win friends and influence people in ways that directly benefit the Russian state or affiliated cronies. </p> <p>Not a bad dish for Putin and his chef. But will the US, China, Europe, or African nations themselves eventually decide to push back harder?</p>
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