What We're Watching: Everyone vs Ethiopian PM, Brazil ditches Huawei, (more) trouble in Sudan, Argentina's midterms, Iraqi powder keg
Opposition forces unite in Ethiopia's civil war. The Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been locked in a brutal year-long civil war against Ethiopian government forces, has now teamed up with another powerful militant outfit that wants to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF, now in alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army — which claims to represent Ethiopia's largest ethnic group — have swept towards the capital Addis Ababa in recent days, prompting the embattled Abiy to call on civilians to take up arms in defense of the city. The Tigray-Oromo alliance, called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces, has called for Abiy's immediate ouster, either by negotiation or by force, and for the prosecution of government officials for war crimes. The UN says all sides in the conflict have committed abuses. The US, which has threatened to suspend Ethiopia's trade preferences over the government's alleged war crimes, is currently trying to broker a cease-fire. When Abiy came to power after popular protests in 2018, he was hailed for liberalizing what was formerly an extremely repressive government (controlled, as it happens, by the TPLF). Now it's looking like he may have unleashed the very forces that could tear the country apart and drive him from office — or worse.
Is China shut out of Brazil's 5G comp? Earlier this year, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro set an ambitious deadline to roll out 5G broadband – which provides much faster internet connections — by July 2022. In recent days, telecom firms have been vying to get a piece of the pie as the tender process heats up. Indeed, it's a lucrative prospect for telecom companies in a country where more than three-quarters of the population (or roughly 190 million people) are connected to the World Wide Web. But the process has not been smooth sailing because, well: China. Bolsonaro has been under a lot of pressure from China skeptics within his own government, and Washington, to exclude tech giant Huawei from the bidding wars. Bolsonaro ultimately caved, as Beijing has evidently been locked out of the process for now. Claro, a Mexican-Brazilian venture, and Spain's Telefonica seem to have walked away big winners from the 5G auction after putting up the most cash for spectrum rights. But this is all very awkward because Huawei has been a major tech provider in Brazil for decades, and local cell phone operators also rely on Huawei's tech. What's more, excluding Huawei, by far the most cost-effective supplier of 5G equipment in the country, will increase the project's overall cost, which is now expected to exceed $7 billion. Many remain skeptical that this massive task can be pulled off in just nine months. But whenever it does happen, it will be great news for Brazilians, many of whom live in remote areas with shoddy internet access.
Sudan on the brink. Two weeks after a military coup in Sudan, the country's security situation continues to deteriorate. On Sunday, soldiers responded to pro-democracy protests in Khartoum by tear-gassing and arresting more than 100 teachers who refuse to return to work until the transitional civilian-military government is restored. (The intervention drew comparisons to the harsh crackdown against protesters that eventually led to the ousting of longtime despot Omar al-Bashir in 2019.) Meanwhile, civilian PM Abdalla Hamdok remains under house arrest, and the internet is still shut down. Arab League mediators have arrived in the capital to try to mediate between junta leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the pro-civilian forces, but Burhan refuses to even call the power grab a coup. The country's largest union, which played a pivotal role in the 2019 protest movement, has called a two-day national strike — the opening salvo of a campaign of civil disobedience to force the military back to the negotiating table. Since the generals show no signs of backing down, the odds of more bloodshed are growing by the day.
Argentina votes, ruling party in trouble. Argentines go to the polls this coming Sunday to vote in the country's midterm legislative elections, with the ruling leftwing coalition of President Alberto Fernández bracing for heavy losses in both houses of parliament. The result will likely reflect the outcome of last September's primary elections, where the president's allies got clobbered by the center-right opposition. Since then, Fernández has caved to pressure from his powerful VP, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation), to double down on social spending and government intervention in the economy to curb skyrocketing inflation. But it hasn't worked: Fernández has capped prices on a whopping 1,432 products, yet annual inflation remains over 50 percent. Without a senate majority, it'll be very hard for the president to get much done in the second half of his term at the worst possible time: economists fear Argentina may stiff the IMF on part of the $45 billion it owes early next year. Another default could lead to a run on banks like in 2001, when the country suffered one of its worst financial crises ever. With presidential elections not on the horizon for another two years, buckle up for a lot of political instability until then.
Iraqi PM's narrow escape. Iraq's PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi is lucky to be alive after a barrage of explosives was fired at his compound inside a high-security zone, injuring several security personnel. The brazen attack was carried out by pro-Iran militias, who have been violently calling for a recount since their parties did poorly in the recent parliamentary elections. On Friday, the militias tried to breach the fortified area known as the "Green Zone," which includes the PM's compound and Western embassies. Pro-Iran factions are particularly worried that Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — whose party won the biggest share of votes and is trying to form a government — will try to temper Tehran's growing influence over the oil-rich country. (Al-Sadr has called for way less foreign interference in Iraq from Iran and the West). Even before the recent unrest, things weren't going well in Iraq, where power supplies are scarce and the economy is in shambles. What's more, Iraqis have little faith in the political elite's ability to fix things, as was reflected in the record-low election turnout. We're watching to see if this latest round of violence begets… more violence.