Then and Now: South Africa, Algeria, Ukraine

We at GZERO are old enough to remember a time when there was some story about the US president trying to buy Greenland… last week. The news cycle moves fast. In fact, since you started reading this piece, it's already moved on.

As an antidote to the news cycle madness, we are creating a little time machine. Every so often we'll fire it up to check on, and update, stories that we've covered in the past.

For our inaugural voyage, we look back at South Africa's elections, Algeria's protests, and a scary near miss between Ukraine and Russia.


Three months ago – A South African reformer struggles: Cyril Ramaphosa's triumph in South Africa's May elections was seen as a reformist rebuke to his African National Congress (ANC) party's corrupt old guard. Now, three months into the job, he is dealing with two main issues: a corruption row and land reform. When Ramaphosa took over as party chief from Jacob Zuma — who was forced out amid widespread corruption allegations — he pledged to bring "ethics" into politics. But for much of his short tenure, Ramaphosa has been fighting a campaign finance scandal. Meanwhile, one of Ramaphosa's first moves as president was to spearhead a controversial land reform that would expedite land transfers to the black majority. This, too, has split public opinion over how, exactly, it will help the poor or speed the country's economic progress.

Six Months ago – Algeria's unfulfilled protests: In February, hundreds of thousands of Algerian protesters hit the streets to call for the ouster of the country's long-serving and functionally-deceased strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He resigned in April but since then the government has been run by the same military cronies who kept Bouteflika in power. That doesn't sit well with protesters, who continue to flood the streets every weekend to demand more than just a cosmetic change to a repressive and corrupt system. They want fresh elections and a civilian government, but no new ballot is on the calendar yet. It's a stalemate in which the military is trying to outlast the streets. A reminder that while popular protests can succeed in ousting specific leaders (think Egypt's Mubarak or Sudan's Bashir) the systems behind those leaders are often much harder to displace.

Nine Months ago – Ukraine and Russia on the brink: For a few days last November, it seemed Moscow and Kyiv's simmering conflict over Eastern Ukraine might escalate into outright war on the high seas, when the Russian navy fired on Ukrainian ships in a contested waterway. Since then things have cooled – and Ukraine has elected a comedian as president. In recent days there has been talk of a major prisoner swap between Ukrainian forces and the Russian-backed rebels who control large swathes of eastern Ukraine. That would be a step forward in resolving the conflict, which is now in its fifth year. But the crux of it remains unresolved: Moscow wants Kyiv to grant the separatist provinces more autonomy than Ukraine's parliament can stomach.

How much material do we use to send a package? Too much. Does recycling help? Yes – but not really. Packaging material often accumulates as waste, contributing to its own "polluting weight." To solve our packaging dilemma, Finland came up with RePack: a "circular" solution for the reuse of material.

Learn more about RePack in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

A steady increase of violence in the Sahel region of Africa over the past eight years has imposed fear and hardship on millions of the people who live there. It has also pushed the governments of Sahel countries to work together to fight terrorists.

The region's troubles have also captured the attention of European leaders, who worry that if instability there continues, it could generate a movement of migrants that might well dwarf the EU refugee crisis of 2015-2016.

But is Europe helping to make things better?

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In a new interview with Ian Bremmer for GZERO World, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says that the single most important step to reopening schools in the fall is to control infection in the community. But as of now, too many communities across the United States have lost control of the Covid-19 virus. Opening schools will only become a possibility once a majority of people start practicing the "Three 'W's" ("Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance") and local and federal governments enforce stricter protective policies. The full episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television on Friday, August 7, 2020. Check local listings.

2,500: Google has deleted around 2,500 YouTube accounts linked to a coordinated misinformation campaign about Hong Kong, Chinese regime critics and China's coronavirus response. It's been a busy week for social media platforms cracking down on fake news, after Facebook and Twitter censored a post from US President Donald Trump for containing misinformation about COVID-19, and Brazil's Supreme Court ordered Facebook to block accounts tied to allies of President Jair Bolsonaro for spreading lies about judges.

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Jim Geraghty argues in a National Review op-ed that we shouldn't blame Trump for the fact that the US has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world. But though he's right that not everything is Trump's fault, Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Scott Rosenstein take out The Red Pen to show that the evidence he cites to let Trump off the hook doesn't hold water.

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