Today, ethnic tensions simmer in Ethiopia, Putin gets his gig for life, and ISIS auditions for Narcos. Meanwhile, can the new Cold War get even chillier? It just did.
Enjoy, and note that we're off tomorrow — back in your inbox Tuesday morning.
When hundreds of thousands of protesters in Ethiopia brought sweeping change to their government in 2018, many of them were blaring the music of one man: a popular young activist named Hachalu Hundessa, who sang songs calling for the liberation and empowerment of the Oromo, the country's largest ethnic group.
Earlier this week, the 34-year old Hundessa was gunned down in the country's capital, Addis Ababa.
The killing has triggered massive new protests across parts of the country. More than 80 people are dead. The internet has been cut nationwide. The prime minister has praised the singer and called for calm. Authorities say suspects are in custody, but beyond that little is known.
These are tense moments. What does Hundessa's murder – and the response — tell us about the challenges facing Ethiopia, one of the world's great recent stories of political progress and economic growth?
Ethiopia is deeply fragmented. The country's people belong to more than 80 ethnic groups. The largest, comprising a third of the country's 105 million people, are the Oromo. Despite their numbers, they have long been politically marginalized.
The mass protests of 2016-2017 began as a reaction to government attempts to swipe Oromo land, and later morphed into a broader society-wide challenge to the opaque and repressive regime that had run the country for decades.
Faced with a sustained uprising, the ruling coalition finally relented. In April 2018, it appointed as prime minister a young, reform-minded Oromo politician named Abiy Ahmed. He became the first Oromo head of state in Ethiopia's history.
Abiy moved quickly, winning plaudits on a number of fronts: releasing political prisoners, making peace with neighboring Eritrea (for which he picked up a Nobel Peace Prize), and accelerating the privatization and reform of one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
But a new climate of political openness has allowed long-simmering ethnic tensions to boil over. In 2018 alone, ethnic strife forced some 3 million people from their homes. Periodic flareups of violence still routinely claim dozens of lives.
Abiy himself has become a target of prominent Oromo nationalists, who accuse him of having done too little to advance their interests, even as other ethnic groups worry that the Oromo are emboldened by having their man in charge.
The pandemic is making it all worse. Although Ethiopia has registered just a handful of coronavirus deaths – and has played an important role in efforts to fight the disease in other developing countries — the economic impact of the pandemic has been huge. The IMF has already cut the country's 2020 growth forecast in half to a little over three percent.
What's more, coronavirus has forced postponement of national elections originally scheduled for August until next year. That means Ethiopians, already in a situation of heightened social tension and economic uncertainty, will have to wait that much longer to express their preferences – and grievances – through normal political channels.The bottom line: Abiy Ahmed has led bold and historic reforms, but lifting the lid off of a society as fractured as Ethiopia's can bring those debilitating tensions right into the open.
As the coronavirus continues to sweep across the United States, hospitals around the country are seeing a crush of COVID-19 patients requiring urgent care. In recent weeks, medical professionals in a number of states have said that they were unprepared not only for the number of infected people that would require treatment, but also for the length of time patients would need to stay in the hospital. Many cities and towns are now facing the possibility of massive hospital bed shortages. Here's a look at hospital bed occupancy rates, state by state.
A conversation on positive change with Howard University presidentBank of America
Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."
The Wall Street Journal editorial board says it is partisan to compare the US pandemic response to Europe. In this episode of The Red Pen — where we do our best to keep op-eds honest — Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Scott Rosenstein point out some flaws in the WSJ's argument. Far from being "partisan," a constructive comparison reveals lots that the US could be doing better. As the caseload continues to soar in many states, time is of the essence. See the whole clip here.
Putin Forever: Russian voters overwhelmingly approved a raft of constitutional amendments that will allow Vladimir Putin to serve two more six-year terms when his presidency ends in 2024. Putin's victory, which surprised no one, came after an independent election monitoring organization said that the Kremlin's referendum campaign was "rigged." Local government officials were told they could lose their jobs if turnout wasn't high enough, the group found. Meanwhile, some authorities had openly offered "prizes" for voting. The constitutional changes, which would allow Putin, now 67, to stay in power until he is 83, were packaged with other amendments, including a clause that outlaws same-sex marriage. Over the last year or so, Putin's popularity has sagged, in part because of specific missteps like a botched pension reform, but also because of a broader lack of clarity about what his plans are for Russia after two decades in power. On the upside, he just got himself another 16 years to figure it out.
Syrians in need get funding lifeline: Dozens of international donors committed on Tuesday a total $7.7 billion to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees. After grinding almost a decade of civil war, Syria has now plunged even deeper into its own abyss owing to the double blow of economic collapse and the coronavirus pandemic. There are currently more than 11 million Syrians in need of assistance, and over 9 million are not getting enough food after food prices have jumped 20-fold since 2011. Almost half the labor force has no work. Still, the money raised at the pledging conference, which was hosted by the European Union, fell well short of the $10 billion the UN asked for, which could provide a glimpse into the future of humanitarian funding for Syria as donor fatigue sets in and donor budgets run low due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Tech Cold War" continues: China has accused the US government of abusing its powers after the US Federal Communications Commission barred Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE from benefiting from American subsidies for mobile carriers (mainly in rural areas). The subsidies ban is the latest episode in the deepening US-China war over tech domination, with the US pushing back against China's rise as a technology powerhouse and China looking to cut its own tech dependence on the US. The rivalry has already spilled over to other markets like the UK, which earlier this year decided to allow Huawei, a leading supplier of 5G equipment, to build its 5G network despite US warnings that it is a high security risk for such critical infrastructure. As US-China tensions deepen, more and more countries are going to have to make a tough choice: use cost-effect components made by Chinese firms while risking Washington's ire, or choose budget-busting alternative suppliers.
As the United States celebrates its Independence Day on July 4th, we thought we'd take a look at two places in the world that have emerged from the colonial rule of Uncle Sam, and a third that may do so in the future.
Liberia: The West African nation of Liberia was never formally a US colony, but from 1816 to 1847 it was administered by the American Colonization Society — founded to return freed American slaves to Africa. Liberia in 1847 became the first independent republic in Africa (and just the second Black republic after Haiti). Its first president was Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a former slave from Virginia. With a similar flag and a US-modeled Constitution, Liberia has remained independent despite several periods of extreme turmoil, including two civil wars. Its current president is former soccer star George Weah, whose son plays for the US national soccer team.
The Philippines: The Philippines officially celebrates its independence on June 12, marking the date in 1898 when, at the end of the Spanish-American War, the archipelago formally broke away from Spain after 333 years of colonial subjugation. But independence was short-lived and almost immediately replaced by US "benevolent assimilation." More than 200,000 Filipinos lost their lives challenging US rule during this period and it wasn't until after World War II that Washington finally gave full sovereign independence to the Philippines...on the 4th of July, 1946.
Puerto Rico: Madrid also lost Puerto Rico to the US during that same Spanish-American War. The island was a US colony until February 5, 1952, when the US Congress approved a constitution with self-governing powers — but it was not made a US state. Since then, Puerto Ricans have been weighing three options for the future: maintaining the status quo, rising to US statehood, or declaring independence. In 2017, 97 percent voted to become the 51st US state but the turnout was only 23 percent because the two political parties favoring the status quo and independence both boycotted the referendum.
Well, Trump's got Russia problems again these days. Remember the time he went all the way to Moscow just to get help with his Twitter password? Check out this Puppet Regime classic.
Hard Numbers: Texas lags in testing, Guatemala closes the door, ISIS does Narcos, DRC refugees get into UgandaGabrielle Debinski
43: Texas, now a COVID-19 epicenter in the United States, ranks forty-third in the country in coronavirus testing per 100,000 people, even though it recorded more than 8,000 new cases on Wednesday, its highest daily uptick on record. Consider that Texas is conducting around 6,300 tests per 100,000 people, compared to almost 20,000 in New York and over 12,000 in Illinois.
400: Throughout the pandemic the Trump administration has continued deporting thousands of migrants to Central America, including many who have tested positive for COVID-19. Now the Guatemalan government, which says returnees from the US have spread the virus, is saying enough is enough: it will now accept a maximum of 400 deportees a month, down from recent highs of around 1,000.
1 billion: Italian authorities intercepted 1 billion euros worth of amphetamine this week, the largest shipment ever intercepted on its coast. Authorities believe that the stash, hidden in large cylinders, was manufactured by the Islamic State in Syria, which had ceased sending cargo to Europe because of the coronavirus crisis, but has now resumed operations to fund its activities in the Middle East.
3,000: Some 3,000 people who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over a month ago have finally been allowed to enter Uganda after a coronavirus border lockdown was lifted this week. Uganda hosts more than 1.4 million refugees, about 30 percent of whom come from the DRC.
This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Carlos Santamaria. The graphic was made by Gabriella Turrisi and Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel came twice today: once from 1,000 years-worth of the 2,000 year-old man, and once from the artist who gave his heart to NY for all of us.