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What We’re Watching: Biden in Europe, Gulf states vs Lebanon, elections in Nicaragua, South Africa & Virginia

Biden's Euro trip. President Joe Biden is on a crucial Euro trip. It began in Rome at the G-20 Summit, where his idea for a global minimum tax rate was broadly endorsed by the group. Biden also visited Pope Francis at the Vatican — a get-together that produced decidedly less scary photos than when his predecessor held a papal visit — and met with France's President Emmanuel Macron to try to smooth over strained relations after the AUKUS debacle, which he now says had been "clumsy." The US president had another face-to-face with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just a week after Ankara threatened to expel the US ambassador. But there's a domestic component at play too: Biden was hoping to have passed two infrastructure bills, which include money for climate change, before he attended the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, which kicked off on Sunday. Failure to close the deal on Capitol Hill would deal Biden's credibility a heavy blow just at the moment he wants to reinforce the US commitment to climate change reduction goals at this week's summit and to claim, yet again, that America is indeed back! But Democrats continue to wrangle over both what's in the bills and how to pay for them. Meanwhile, only a third of Americans now say that the US is headed in the right direction. Biden was hoping to have the wind at his back as he sailed into Europe. Instead, he is facing a strong political headwind.

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What We're Watching: South Africa's local elections

ANC feels heat as South Africa votes. South Africans go to the polls on Monday to vote in local elections, which are viewed as the biggest test for the ruling ANC party since the end of apartheid. The ANC, which has won every nationwide election since 1994, could lose control of major cities, including Johannesburg, to the opposition Democratic Alliance and coalitions of small independent parties because many South Africans are fed up with government corruption and dysfunction. Indeed, ongoing power outages are being blamed on a state-owned power utility long suspected of graft, and crumbling infrastructure on years of financial mismanagement by successive ANC-led governments. President Cyril Ramaphosa, an ANC stalwart, has admitted (some) party mistakes, and required all ANC candidates to sign a non-enforceable pledge to improve public services. More broadly, it's also the first time the ANC will face voters since the deadly riots that followed former president Jacob Zuma's conviction for contempt of court last July. Zuma is now on parole while he faces trial for corruption, but he remains immensely popular with the ANC's left wing — and a thorn in the side of his successor Ramaphosa.

Africa’s vaccine cloning gamble

Less than a year after the world started putting COVID vaccines into people's arms, most regions have immunized at least half their populations, but Africa still lags behind. With industrialized nations hoarding jabs and the COVAX facility faltering, barely five percent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

Some enterprising South African scientists are now making a bold bid to change that, with an experiment that could benefit not only Africa's 54 nations and billion people, but the entire world: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a Cape Town-based startup, has developed a plan to reverse-engineer Moderna's mRNA shot and manufacture it for priority distribution on the continent.

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What We're Watching: Polish state of emergency, Ukraine-US meeting, South African nuclear power, Russia's troll

Poland weighs state of emergency: Poland is weighing whether to declare a state of emergency as thousands of immigrants continue to flood its border with Belarus. The order, which would be invoked for the first time since Communist rule, would allow the government to restrict people's movements in certain regions for 30 days. Poland, along with Latvia and Lithuania, has accused Belarus' strongman President Alexander Lukashenko of facilitating illegal border crossings, particularly for Iraqi migrants, as retribution for EU sanctions on Belarus. Indeed, there's even evidence that Belarusian troops physically pushed migrants to enter EU territory. Poland has registered more than 3,000 attempted crossings this month alone, and has responded by beefing up its border security, including erecting barbed wire fences. There are reports that Minsk is now planning on sending migrants from Morocco and Pakistan, which has absorbed the lion's share of Afghan refugees to date. Knowing that the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 caused deep fissures within the 27-member bloc, is Lukashenko now trying to weaponize the Afghan refugee crisis to sow divisions within the EU just as the bloc is already concerned about another refugee crisis?

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South Africa: Rule of law or cult of personality?

Imagine for a moment that you have been elected president of a major country because of your promises to root out corruption and kickstart the economy. Now imagine that the moment you arrest the most corrupt person in your country's history, the streets explode in a destructive orgy of riots and looting in response.

This is the situation currently facing South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa. In recent days, he has deployed the army to control the worst upheaval the country has seen in decades. Malls and warehouses have been ransacked and torched. Dozens have been reported killed. Hundreds have been arrested.

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What We're Watching: Bolsonaro criminal probe, Lebanon's "social explosion," Zuma defies court, Putin's definition of champagne

Bolsonaro probe heats up: A smattering of protests broke out in cities across Brazil this weekend after the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for a criminal probe into President Jair Bolsonaro for "dereliction of duty" linked to procurement of COVID vaccines. What's this all about? A recent congressional inquiry into Bolsonaro's broad handling of the COVID crisis revealed that he knew — and failed to report to authorities — a shady deal negotiated by his health ministry to buy jabs from a private Indian pharmaceutical company for more than 10 times the price originally quoted. The allegations have sparked fresh calls to impeach Bolsonaro, but conviction would require support from two-thirds of the lower house of Congress, an unlikely scenario given Bolsonaro's broad web of alliances in parliament. Still, the unfolding political drama is indeed having an impact on the street cred of the populist president, who rose to power on an anti-establishment, anti-corruption platform: Bolsonaro's net approval rating now hovers at -23 percent. Brazilians, who have been pummeled by the COVID crisis, will surely be watching the probe very closely ahead of next year's presidential vote. The timing is not great for Bolsonaro, whose nemesis, leftwing former president Lula, is gaining steam in the polls.

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Happy US Independence Day! Now can you sing it?

When the United States celebrates its Independence Day on July 4th, many Americans will be singing the Star-Spangled Banner at sports games, parties, and other patriotic-themed events. To mark the date, we take a look at some fun facts about national anthems around the world.

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What We’re Watching: Australia cancels China deals, Zuma without lawyers, US to recognize Armenian genocide

Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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