Then and Now: Congo's hope, Khashoggi's murder, and the biggest trade deal ever

Then and Now: Congo's hope, Khashoggi's murder, and the biggest trade deal ever

Three Months Ago – EU and South American nations strike major trade deal

Back in July, we wrote about a historic trade deal between the EU and Mercosur, a Latin American trade bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreement, which took 20 years to hash out, removes most tariffs on EU exports and will open up Europe to more South American agricultural goods. Together, the EU and Mercosur countries are home to 720 million people and account for a quarter of global GDP. But the agreement, which still needs to be ratified by each country (that's 28 in Europe alone) was thrown into doubt after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's flippant response to massive Amazon fires, prompting France's President Emmanuel Macron to threaten to block the deal unless Brazil improves its environmental standards. German environmental and political groups have also opposed the deal. But the biggest roadblock yet could come from Argentina, where leftwing protectionist Alberto Fernandez, the favorite to become Argentina's new president in elections later this month, has said the deal would be "disadvantageous for Argentina." Realistically, a trade deal billed as the largest in history could come crashing down fast.


Nine Months Ago – Is it the end of an era in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Back in December, we discussed the rising expectations for a democratic transition in DRC as it headed to the ballot box for the first time since gaining independence in 1960. Felix Tshisekedi, the son of a long-time opposition leader, was declared the winner but speculation was rife that the elections were rigged, and that Tshisekedi had in fact reached a power-sharing agreement with outgoing president Joseph Kabila, who had ruled with an iron fist for two decades. At the time, we asked whether the DRC would get "the appearance of transformational change rather than the real thing." The answer so far is mixed. In a positive step, Tshisekedi pardoned 700 political prisoners – victims of Kabila's long standing crackdown on dissidents– and encouraged politicians in exile to return home. But the new president also nominated a Kabila loyalist to be his prime minister and stacked his cabinet with allies of the former strongman. Deep-seated government corruption, violence between warring militias, and an Ebola outbreak that the World Health Organization declared a "global health emergency" have taken a toll on the DRC, which has one of the world's lowest levels of GDP per capita. It's unreasonable to expect an overnight transition from decades of strongman rule to smoothly running democracy, but the jury's still out on whether Tshisekedi is really moving in the right direction.

Twelve Months Ago - Jamal Khashoggi murdered

The gruesome murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA and the UN believe involved Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, prompted a number of businesses and governments to reassess their relationships with the kingdom. Many large investors skipped Saudi Arabia's flagship investment conference several weeks later. Some European countries halted arms sales to the kingdom over the murder, as well as over Riyadh's grotesquely ineffective war in Yemen, which received fresh attention in the weeks after Khashoggi's killing. But in the US, congressional moves to cut military support for the kingdom have been vigorously rejected, and swiftly vetoed, by President Trump. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which at first denied knowing anything about the killing, has since held a secretive trial of those it accuses of carrying it out. Abroad, Riyadh is working hard to patch up its image with help from lobbyists and Instagram influencers, and is looking forward to a more robust attendance at this year's "Davos in the Desert" investment conference later this month. A relationship as long-standing and strategic as the US-Saudi one was never going to change drastically, even over the spectacularly gruesome murder of a journalist. But a year on, it's hard to avoid the sense that Khashoggi's death, whatever light it threw on the increasing danger to journalists worldwide, was mostly in vain.

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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