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Internally displaced Somali women stand in a queue waiting for relief food to be served south of Mogadishu, September 5, 2011.

Reuters

Famine looms in Somalia

The effects of the global food crisis have hit some parts of the globe harder than others. Prone to drought and largely reliant on food imports, the Horn of Africa is reeling, and Somalia, in particular, is facing an acute crisis.

The UN warned this week that “famine is at the door” of the 17 million-strong country, cautioning that several provinces in the southern Bay region could be in the throes of a deadly famine by the end of the year.

Somalia’s current predicament is a cautionary tale for other East African states that have also been pummeled in recent decades by extreme weather events and social and political instability.

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Somalia appoints former al Shabaab spokesperson as minister in Mogadishu

REUTERS/Feisal Omar

What We're Watching: Somalia's new cabinet, takeaways from US primaries, Peru's president in peril

Somalia appoints former al-Shabab militant to cabinet

Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre has named former al-Shabab spokesperson, Muktar Robow, as Somalia’s minister for endowment and religious affairs. A veteran of the Afghan war, who was training with al-Qaida in Afghanistan during 9/11, Robow helped found al-Shabab, which is fighting to overthrow the Somali government in a bid to invoke a strict interpretation of Sharia law. The militants have killed tens of thousands since 2007, and they’ve recently been involved in cross-border attacks in Ethiopia. Robow (aka Abu Mansour), who once had a $5 million bounty on his head, broke from the al-Qaida-linked militants back in 2017. Arrested by Somali authorities in 2018 to prevent him from running for office, Robow had been under house arrest in Mogadishu until last year, when he was taken back into custody. This week, he was released just before his new role was announced. As the new face of Somalia’s war against al-Shabab, Robow is tasked with helming the ideological battle against the terrorists. Some believe this will strengthen the government’s hand against al-Shabab, but critics fear it could lead to sectarian violence.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman fist bumps US President Joe Biden in Jeddah.

Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

What We're Watching: Biden-MBS fist bump, Xi in Xinjiang, Kenya-Somalia thaw

Biden’s Saudi trip fallout

Engagement with would-be pariahs may cost you politically, but it's necessary for the national interest. Over the weekend, US President Joe Biden got panned — mostly by fellow Democrats — for fist-bumping with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, during Biden's controversial Middle East trip. (The CIA believes MBS ordered the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.) Still, the White House said the president returned from the region with some important agreements, such as progress on ending the war in Yemen or making a joint pledge with Israel to stop Iran from getting nukes. But did he really achieve much else? Riyadh announced that it'll increase oil production, but not enough to tame rising gas prices and inflation in America before the November midterms. The Saudis are also nowhere near joining the Abraham Accords, and peace between Israel and the Palestinians remains as elusive as it was under Biden's predecessors. So, why go at all then? The short answer is: as long as the US wants to continue being a player in the Middle East, you simply can't afford to ignore the Saudis, or MBS himself.

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Pro-Trump rioters storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

REUTERS/Leah Millis

What We’re Watching: Jan 6. hearings begin, Beijing’s Zero bet & Somalia famine warning

House holds first public Jan. 6 hearing in prime time

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol held its first public hearing on Thursday night, with most news channels airing it in prime time (notably not Fox News). Viewers were shown graphic, never-before-seen footage to demonstrate how, as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said, former President Donald Trump “lit the flame of this attack.” The hearing aired revelatory clips of testimony from former US Attorney General William Barr, who told Trump that claims about a stolen election were “bullshit,” and from Trump's daughter Ivanka, who said she’d accepted Barr’s perspective. And some participants in the attack testified that they were on hand because Trump had asked them to be there in Washington, DC, on that day. Will the hearings change hearts or minds? Unlikely in such a polarized environment, but Eurasia Group’s lead US analyst Jon Lieber says Democrats hope the hearings will help keep the focus on Trump ahead of November’s midterm elections, which are slated to be a washout for Democrats. Republicans, for their part, would rather make midterms a referendum on President Joe Biden and kitchen-table issues like inflation. The hearings — a culmination of one of the Justice Department’s largest-ever FBI investigations, which has led to more than 800 arrests across nearly all 50 states — will continue next week.

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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during their meeting in Budapest.

Reuters.

What We're Watching: Hungarian holdout, hope in Shanghai, US troops return to Somalia

Is Hungary holding the EU “hostage”?

The European Commission is pushing hard for a bloc-wide ban on Russian oil imports. But one member state — Hungary — has gone rogue and is holding up the embargo. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, Lithuania’s representative accused Hungary of holding the bloc “hostage,” after PM Viktor Orbán demanded that Brussels dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to offset losses from moving away from cheap Russian fossil fuels. Orbán is buddies with Vladimir Putin and has been trying to expand Hungary’s economic relationship with the Kremlin in recent months, so he is driving a hard bargain, saying that ditching Russian oil would be an “atomic bomb” for his country’s economy. Landlocked Hungary relies on Russia for around 45% of its total oil imports, and finding alternative sources could lead to shortages and price hikes at a time when Hungarians are already grappling with sky-high inflation. Still, Brussels says Budapest is being greedy because Hungary has already been given a longer window — until the end of 2024 — to phase out Russian imports. But Orbán is hoping to get more concessions ahead of a big EU summit on May 30, when the bloc aims to find a political solution to this stalemate.

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Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine appear on stage after winning the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy.

REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Hard Numbers: Ukraine wins Eurovision, Somalia’s new prez, Venezuela woos investors, CDU victory

439: Ukraine won the popular Eurovision Song Contest in Italy thanks to a late surge of 439 fan votes from across the continent early Sunday. President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated the winner, vowing to hold next year's edition in the besieged city of Mariupol.

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El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele present the plan of "Bitcoin City."

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

What We’re Watching: Bukele’s crypto bomb, Somalia needs a president

Has El Salavdor’s crypto experiment bombed?

Mass protests erupted last fall after Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s youthful, tech-savvy president with an authoritarian streak, announced that the country would begin accepting Bitcoin as legal tender. Many Salvadorans said Bukele’s embrace of the volatile currency would spur inflation and financial instability. Those warnings have proven prescient. In recent days, the crypto world has been caught in a tailspin, in part because global inflation has lowered investors’ tolerance for risk. Bitcoin and Etherium, the biggest cryptocurrencies, have both declined in value by 20-25% this week – and El Salvador is recording losses of about 37% based on what it forked out for crypto in a series of purchases. This has proven to be a disaster for Bukele: two major credit rating agencies predict El Salavdor will default on its loans. San Salvador has an IMF repayment due in January worth a whopping $800 million, and amid ongoing negotiations earlier this year the international lender warned that “Bitcoin should not be used as an official currency with legal tender status.” Still, the enigmatic Bukele continues to double down: this week, he released plans for the Bitcoin city he touted last fall – a smart city based on the use of the flailing currency.

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Malaysia ups palm oil exports, al-Shabab strikes in Somalia, split verdict on marital rape in India, journalist killed in West Bank

Hard Numbers: Malaysia ups palm oil exports, al-Shabab strikes in Somalia, split verdict on marital rape in India, journalist killed in West Bank

162: Indian women’s rights groups are reeling after a New Delhi court failed to deliver a verdict in a case that could have overturned a 162-year-old law permitting marital rape. The Indian Penal Code says sex "by a man with his own wife" does not constitute rape. The case will likely be appealed before the Supreme Court.

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